Despite the amputation of his right forearm, Joel Schultz has spent his summer golfing at Tuscumbia Golf Course. Joe Schulz photo
by Joe Schulz
When golf enthusiast Joel Schultz lost the use of his hands in 2011 due to complications from a bypass surgery, he didn’t know if he would ever swing a club again.
This summer, with the help of a custom-made prosthetic, he’s been driving, chipping and putting away at the Tuscumbia Golf Course.
When Schultz was growing up in Green Lake on Lake Street in the 1960s, one of his older brothers came home raving about how cool golf was. The duo set up a mock golf course in the backyard and began swinging.
“I just learned from that,” Schultz said.
After practicing in the backyard, Schultz and his brother began coming to Green Lake’s Tuscumbia Golf Course.
“I think it cost like 50 cents to play, and they had a junior program where it was $10 for the summer,” Schultz said.
He continued to golf throughout high school and into early adulthood.
In 1969, Schultz married his wife, Georgia. That year, he bought clubs and continued to golf, going out with Georgia’s uncle and a few friends at the Golf Courses of Lawsonia.
“Then it got to the point where we just had our first daughter, and I realized I shouldn’t be spending this much time playing golf,” Schultz said. “So I just quit.”
Between the decision to put the clubs away and the early ’90s, Schultz only played golf a handful of times.
Schultz was diagnosed with hereditary coronary artery disease in 1992 and the next year he was declared legally disabled.
In 1994, he picked the clubs up again and began playing with the Pastor’s Golf Association.
“It was just a great time and it’s fun going with the pastors because you knew there wasn’t going to be any swearing, drinking [or] vulgar language,” Schultz said.
He continued to play golf until 2011, when he went in for his second bypass surgery. Because it was his second one, the doctors proceeded with caution. They decided their best bet would be to take the arteries out of his forearms.
When Schultz woke up from the almost 12-hour procedure, he knew something was wrong. He developed compartment syndrome in both forearms as a complication from the surgery.
“My forearms were swelling so much that it was restricting the blood flow to my arms and hands,” Schultz said.
Doctors released the pressure building up in his arms, but it was too late as many of the muscles in his forearms had already died.
Schultz went back to surgery each day for a week as doctors worked to pull the dead muscles out of his arm.
“It got to the point where virtually all my forearm muscles were gone and that’s what drives your hands,” Schultz said. “You have little muscles that help bend the fingers and help twist screws and stuff, but your major muscles are in your forearm.”
His right hand was left with no feeling; he described it as flopping around and getting in the way.
“I finally was the one who decided to have it amputated because nothing was ever going to happen with it. It was in the way,” he said.
His left hand and wrist had no movement or touch, leaving a numb feeling. In April 2012, the gracilis muscle in his right thigh was transplanted into his left forearm.
“It does help. I can drive. And it helps with golf and a lot of things,” Schultz said.
Most of Schultz’s prosthetic work was done in Appleton, and in 2015 he read a story about Professional Golf Association Pro Bob Burns helping disabled golfers get back on course. He did some digging online and scheduled an appointment with Burns.
“We just hit it off, and it’s like we had been friends our whole life,” Schultz said.
Burns was able to set Schultz up with a glove with a loop on it that helps him keep his hand around the club.
LEFT, Joel Schultz displays a glove made by Bob Burns. The loop helps him keep the club in position. RIGHT, Schultz shows off his custom-made prosthetic that allows him to continue golfing. Joe Schulz photos
“We started with that and just using my hook,” Schultz said.
Eventually, he discovered a prosthetic that could hold the golf club better than his hook. The only problem was it couldn’t bend.
“The guy that was using it, his left hand was missing, and you don’t use as much wrist with your left hand,” Schultz said.
He went home and began tinkering with a thick black garden hose and a piece of aluminum pipe, eventually crafting a prototype prosthetic.
“It worked; not great, but it worked,” Schultz said.
He took the prototype to Burns, who took him to a warehouse and said, “Choose the hose you want, and you can have as much as you want.”
They settled on a high-pressure hydraulic hose, which was more durable than the hoses Schultz had used on his prototypes.
Schultz has had a lot of fun getting back into golf. He doesn’t play for score; he plays to figure each shot out.
“It was something I never thought I would do [again],” Schultz said. “During the last few years before [golfing again], I sold my golf cart and started throwing out golf related things that I didn’t need anymore.”
Schultz hasn’t let his disability stop him from living his life beyond golf as he’s recorded almost every basketball game his grandson, Ben Wettstein, ever played.
When Ben started playing at Laconia High School in Rosendale, Schultz continued taping the games. This time, he took it one step further.
He began recording almost every Laconia varsity, junior varsity and freshman game.
The day after each game, Schultz put the footage on DVDs that he distributed to the players, fans and coaches on both teams.
Ben played his last game at Laconia in 2016, but Schultz continues to record the games and travel with the team. So far, Schultz estimates that he’s distributed 5,334 DVDs.
Schultz believes his story is a testament to the human spirit. “When people have a horrendous something happen, you can either give up and die or you can dig down to where you didn’t know you had and fight,” Schultz said.