The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

July 23, 2013

GOODWIN: Car accident ends Rodney Horn's pro golf career

The last time I saw Rodney Horn was in the spring of 1987.

He had semi-retired to a farm near Anderson. His burgeoning pro golf career had come to a screeching halt in a car accident in 1968 that left him with permanent pain in his lower back and injured his left thumb and wrist. But he was hoping to begin playing competitively as an amateur again at the 1987 Twin Hills Invitational.

It didn’t happen. He played, but not up to his past standards.

Just how good was Horn, you ask?

Well, he ranks up there among the best I ever saw in the region. That includes Payne Stewart. I watched Payne develop from a cocky, talented kid to a confident, talented young amateur and then a classy, upper-echelon touring pro.

Horn was on that sort of fast track.  

Rodney, at least when I first saw him at Twin Hills years before, had that same sort of quiet swagger reflecting a deep confidence in his ability. And he was good. Very good. Check Horn’s record. Over a five-year period, from 1963 to 1967, Rodney won the Twin Hills Invitational four times and lost to fellow Kansas University player Red Hogan in a playoff in 1964.

By 1968, Horn was on the PGA Tour and starting to make an impression. He was tied for the lead with Lee Trevino after three rounds in the Buick Open. But Tom Weiskopf came from three shots back on Sunday to win. That same year Horn was 15th at the Hartford Open and cashed at the Kemper Open.

But the car accident that year put a hold on Horn’s golf career. Despite the pain from his injuries, Horn started hitting balls and walking courses about two months later. Rodney later questioned whether he moved too quickly in pushing to get his game and body back in shape for the PGA Tour. He played 10 tournaments in 1969 and five in 1970. But the game wasn’t the same and practice was painful.

“I was just not talented enough not to practice and still be able to play tournament golf at that level,” Rodney said.  

Still hoping that things might be changed, Horn went to the Mayo Clinic in 1970. There a doctor told him he would be lucky to play twice a week, assuming that he could play at all. That ended Horn’s dreams of a pro golf career.

Even though he began playing again, Rodney’s assessment of his game in 1987 wasn’t good. “I know what good is,” he said. He did and, before the accident, he was.

While Horn couldn’t play pro golf, he could smash tennis balls and run around the court. He competed at a high level in his age division. In fact, he is one of two pro golfers who played in the Over 40 National Tennis Tournament. The other was Frank Connors.

I lost track of Rodney Horn over the years. I even tried to find him on Internet, but my skills with the computer are virtually nil.

This could be the year that Horn’s four-victory record in the Twin Hills Invitational falls. Kyle Long won his fourth title last year. I suspect if Kyle wins, Rodney would be cheering. He is, after all, a competitor who knows what it takes to reach such heights.

 Cup qualifying

Qualifying for the Joplin men’s Horton Smith and Ky Laffoon teams is scheduled next weekend at Briarbrook Golf Club and Twin Hills Golf and Country Club. Sixteen players will qualify for each team. The matches will be played Aug. 10-11 in Springfield.

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