By Ken MacLeod
Another unique chapter in the remarkable life of Traden Karch was written last week, this one starring Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane and the good folks at FlyingTee and Cobra Puma Golf.
From getting a full custom fitting and new clubs from Cobra, new outfits from Puma to walking inside the ropes at the Honda Classic with both Fowler and Crane and a reunion with hero Rory McIlroy, the week was a blur of joy for Traden and parents Chris and Manda.
Last Friday, his final day at the tournament, marked two years to the day Traden nearly died in a horrific crash that left him with a caved-in skull and fighting for his life. His journey back has been filled with the support of friends, loved ones, strangers who read his story online or in many publications, and organizations like the PGA of America, which has hosted him at the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.
This episode began when John Vollbrecht, CEO of the FlyingTee in Jenks, learned of Traden’s story via a video story produced by the Golf Channel last fall and had Traden and his family out to the FlyingTee, in September, where he awarded him a lifetime membership.
Cobra Puma, which works closely with Vollbrecht at the FlyingTee, began to plan a special treat for Traden. At first it was going to be a visit to Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open including a tour of a Cobra plant, but schedule conflicts resulted in the week at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., instead.
And what a week it was.
“It was just crazy,” said Traden, now 15 and nine inches taller at 5-foot-8 than he was at the time of the accident. “They were all so nice to me.”“It was so special,” Chris Karch said. “I really am grateful to John Vollbrecht and the guys with Cobra Puma for making this happen. It was really an incredible experience.”
The Karch family flew down Monday with Tracy Phillips, the PGA Director of Golf at FlyingTee. On Tuesday, Traden was custom fit in the Cobra Puma Truck, attended a press conference and walked a few holes and had a putting contest with Crane. Traden found the greens a bit fast to his liking, but the experience was off the charts. The family then finished the day at Tiger Woods’ flagship restaurant in Jupiter.
Crane had actually called the family at the request of former PGA Tour golfer Michael Boyd of Tulsa back in 2013 while Traden was still in a coma, but didn’t make the connection until reminded of Traden’s story by Boyd. He and Traden hit it off like old friends.
Traden joined Fowler inside the ropes for four holes during Wednesday’s pro-am and Fowler was a gracious host. He even met up again with Traden after missing the cut on Friday, showing again why he is known as one of the classiest players on tour.
Traden also attended a press conference for the 2018 Ryder Cup at the PGA of America’s headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens and hit it off with Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk.
After watching the tournament Thursday and Friday, he was able to meet up again with McIlroy, who had played an instrumental role in his recovery by sending him an encouraging video shortly after the accident and by meeting him in person at the 2016 PGA Championship.
Traden has continued to make amazing progress in his recovery. His memory and speech problems have improved dramatically and he is an A and B student in regular classes, only taking remedial work in language arts. Even there, he has made great strides in advancing his reading comprehension levels and has no problems chatting with friends and family.
He still plays and practices at the Broken Arrow Golf & Athletic Club, working to solve the mysteries of the wonderful sport that helped bring him out of his shell following the accident. He also returned to the basketball court for the first time this winter, playing in a local league and leading his team in scoring.
Watching Traden enjoying himself at the Honda Classic was just as fun for those who made it possible as it was for the Karch family.
“It’s by far the coolest thing we’ve ever done,” Vollbrecht said. “We appreciate the help of Cobra Puma to make his week so memorable.”
Eric Logan, Chief Operating Officer at Cobra Puma Golf, said the pleasure was all his.
“He is a remarkable young man and our Cobra Puma Golf team, along with Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane, had a great time getting to know him and his family.”