Kroner: Westville golfer has drive to succeed
WESTVILLE — Chase Henry grew up around Westville High School's football program.
Older brothers Kyle and Cory played for the Tigers. Chase would hang around the field at every possible opportunity.
"I wanted to follow their footsteps," Chase said.
Tigers coach Guy Goodlove became acquainted years ago with the third of Melissa and David Henry's sons and, Chase said, "When my brothers played, I'd shake his hand (after games). Me and him were best friends before I got to high school."
Chase Henry's dream of playing football for the Tigers was derailed before he was able to put on the pads one time, but his desire to be an athlete at the school never missed a beat.
Henry was born with Erb's palsy, which is a paralysis of the arm. He has undergone four surgeries — the first of which occurred when he was 5 months old — and a fifth one might be on the horizon.
The teenager is unable to fully extend his left arm and has a limited range of motion and rotation. The arm is in a permanently semi-bent position at the elbow. He does not have a fully developed shoulder on the left side.
When he was in eighth grade, doctors ruled out football as an option for the aspiring athlete.
"Any contact on that shoulder could potentially undo the surgeries," Chase Henry said.
He briefly had a second sport in mind.
"They said I couldn't wrestle, either," he said.
On the ride home from Riley Hospital in Indianapolis, the day he was given the news, Chase Henry picked his sport.
"I told my mom, 'I'm golfing,' " he said.
There was one other thing the youth had to do. He felt compelled to personally tell Goodlove he wouldn't participate in football.
"I didn't know how I'd tell him," Chase Henry said. "That was probably worse than losing a pet."
The moment he dreaded turned out to be a blessing.
"Coach Goodlove kept the conversation on a positive note," Melissa Henry said, "and told Chase he would do great at whatever he does, to keep trying and don't give up. It really lifted Chase's spirits."
Chase Henry wasn't raised in a family of golfers. His parents don't play, and he hadn't been around golf courses as a caddie or an observer.
Melissa Henry remembers wanting to be supportive of her youngest son's venture but also being realistic.
"His dad and I were like, 'Great. We know nothing about golf, but we are behind you 110 percent,' " she said.
It's possible to make up for the late beginning, but Henry faced other obstacles. While he is able to put both hands on the club, his swing is basically all right-handed. His left arm, when last measured, is 6 3/4 inches shorter than his right, and he has only about 30 percent of the strength he has in the right.
Experts will speak to the importance of keeping the left arm straight during the swing and follow-through. Experts didn't know Chase Henry.
"If you believe in yourself hard enough and have the dedication and heart, anything is possible," he said. "If you want to do it, don't let anything hold you back. Go for it."
For Chase Henry, his golf career started at home but not in the pasture where more than two dozen goats reside.
"He turned our family room into a putting green," Melissa Henry said.
It was an unconventional approach, to be certain, and there were never wind issues to take into account, but Chase Henry found some challenges soon enough.
"When you putt on a carpet, sometimes it turns right or left, just like on a regular green," Chase Henry said.
Occasionally, even his best-stroked putts wouldn't reach their mark, however.
"Sometimes our little dog would snatch one," Henry said.
To appreciate what Chase Henry has accomplished — he shot a career-low 38 six days ago at Danville's Harrison Park — consider where he has been.
In his first two high school meets, his scores were 63 and 70. He has never had higher nine-hole scores.
His golf coach at Westville, Austin Wenger, got to know Henry when he was in seventh grade and playing on junior high basketball teams that Wenger was coaching.
"I have never given him special treatment, nor has he ever asked for it," Wenger said. "He has always worked hard to overcome the physical disadvantages he has and has never complained or used it as an excuse.
"He has always wanted to be treated like any other athlete. As a golfer, Chase has been one of the hardest- working athletes I have had the pleasure of coaching."
Henry was confident he could master the game — as much as it's possible to master golf — because he had successfully met other challenges.
"It was very hard getting up every day when I was younger," he said, "knowing I'd have to have the gym teacher help me tie my shoes or someone help me button my pants."
To literally lend a hand, his mom and grandmother, Penny Krout, would alter his pants, sewing on Velcro strips to replace snaps and buttons.
As an eighth-grader, he solved the shoe and pants issue by necessity.
"I didn't want to wear Velcro going into high school," he said, "and I said I was going to learn to tie my shoes. I'd come close sometimes.
"Looking back, I wonder why couldn't I have done that. It's the simplest thing. I've got it now."
Goodlove's principal's office at Westville has very few pictures of students. One exception is a photo of him with Chase Henry.
It also includes a pumpkin decorated as a Tiger, a project Henry did for school as a fourth-grader.
"I made it thinking I would give it to him," Henry said. "The biggest Tiger fan here is Coach Goodlove."
The picture shows the pumpkin, along with Goodlove and Henry.
"He and I had a great relationship," Goodlove said. "I don't have a lot of pictures of students on my desk. He is one of them.
"He is very charismatic and has the ability to make people laugh. He is one of those kids who makes Westville High School a better place."
Goodlove acknowledged he had doubts when hearing that Henry was taking up golf.
"To me, golf would be one sport ... I'd said, 'No way,' " Goodlove said, "but he made a believer out of me. To have to switch gears and become as good as he is in a short period is a credit to him. We're very proud of him."
Henry's achievements should be a source of motivation for other students, the principal said.
"With Chase around, if you don't have a handicap, it's hard to make excuses," Goodlove said. "If Chase can do it, then our students see that."
Chase Henry was willing to devote time to improving his golf game, but he credits those who have assisted him along the way, including former Harrison Park club pro John Smith and former assistant Eric Millis.
"I wouldn't be shooting these scores without help from those two," Henry said.
Millis sees his role simply as a facilitator.
"His success has very little to do with me," Millis said. "I showed him the doors and he walked through them."
Millis became accustomed to helping golfers, in Danville and in a similar position he held at Key Largo, Fla. One trait about Henry stands out.
"A lot of times, you give lessons and they're hearing you but not listening and applying," Millis said. "Chase listened and worked very hard at the fundamentals I was trying to teach. He has gotten a lot better because he worked hard at the right things.
"He was always doing everything he could to apply it. The thing about him is, he's such a good kid and a joy to be around. Everything Chase accomplishes, he deserves."
One point of emphasis for Millis was to get Henry to compensate for the limited use of his left arm.
"He's not able to get extension through the ball at impact," Millis said. "With his (left) arm being shorter, his ball position needs to be different than what most people would play."
Rather than have Henry in a stance where he addresses the ball while in front of or even with the ball, Millis said, "I had him put the ball more to the back of his stance. As the club came down to impact, he would hit it more crisply."
Wenger noticed the improvement. And more.
"Like a true competitor, he is never satisfied and continues to work hard to keep improving," Wenger said. "Chase has continued to surprise and surpass people's expectations with his continued improvement and success on the golf course."
Henry now has played enough golf to understand the fickleness and frustrations of the game.
"One day it can be your best friend, and the next it can turn around and whip on you," he said.
Henry can't imagine life without golf being a part of his high school experience.
"I have plenty of friends, that's not the issue," he said. "I wanted to stay busy, and high school would have been pretty tough without something to look forward to when the day ended."
Some people might consider Henry a role model or an inspiration. He's not sure he sees it that way.
"There are people with harder limitations than me," he said. "I think I'm really blessed to be fine the way I am, other than my left arm. God gave me that limitation, but you can still do what you want.
"I've never let anything stop me from trying."
Others have noticed.
"I recently came across a quote I really liked, 'The only disability in life is a poor attitude,' " Wenger said. "Chase Henry embodies this quote with the great attitude he has always had.
"He will be missed when his time here at Westville is over. With the heart and hard work this young man displays, Chase's great attitude leaves him with no disability at all."
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette's prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.