If it wasn’t for bad luck, Katie (Tewell) Brinker would have no luck at all.
Few people would have blamed Brinker had she bought into that long ago. After all, she’s had more than her share of bad breaks, including many of the heartbreaking variety.
It’s not a strong enough word to describe Brinker, who last Saturday again demonstrated her iron will.
With her right foot and ankle encased in a boot, she played in the Executive Women’s Golf Association Chapter Championship for central Indiana on Saturday at River Glen Country Club in Fishers.
Brinker carded a 75 to advance to the EWGA semifinals round scheduled for mid-August.
At present, her right leg is mending from a fracture just above the ankle. Her left ankle is injured, too, though less severely.
“Last month, I was leaving my house to go to work and I fell. I broke my fibula in my right leg and sprained my left ankle,” Brinker explained.
For her, there was really only one question in Fishers on Saturday. It was not whether she would play or play well. It was whether she could keep her boot dry with the rain that was predicted.
“I took a garbage bag with me just in case,” she said. “Because I could not let it get wet.”
The former Center Grove High School golf star — she finished second in the IHSAA Girls Golf State Finals in 2001, her junior season, and won it all the next — has battled a multitude of setbacks.
In July 2006, after competing in the first of three trips to the NCAA Division III Championships as a golfer at Franklin College, she was featured on “NCAA Spring Highlights,” a national CBS television program that included profiles of standout NCAA spring sports athletes in all three divisions.
In the CBS interview, Brinker discussed the hardship of numerous tragedies, including the deaths of 13 relatives and friends in the preceding five years.
She had also suffered significant physical injury in an automobile accident and had to put her golf clubs aside for a year to mend.
In terms of her golfing career, Brinker’s spirit was never more evident than when she was playing in her final college event as a senior at Franklin College.
Her second-place finish in 2008 NCAA Division III national competition in Waverly, Iowa, undoubtedly was one of the most stirring runner-up efforts in the history of the event.
Brinker shot a 78 in both the first and second rounds on the Centennial Oaks Golf Club links, dropping her far lower in the individual standings than anyone would have ever expected.
A couple of rounds of 78 would have been part of a career-best score for many of the competitors in the nationals, but they were disappointing ones for her.
Being hindered by a case of walking pneumonia didn’t exactly help, but Brinker persevered. As usual.
With truly no margin for error left, Brinker was at her best, fighting back in the second half of the grueling four-day competition. On the third day, she carded a 70 — the best round of the whole week for anyone — to get back into contention for the individual title.
Then in the fourth and final round, Brinker kept charging.
Starting on the back nine, she was on fire in the first half of the round and was four shots under par at the break. After scoring an eagle on her 12th hole, Brinker bogeyed four of the final six holes.
She still finished with a 71 on Day 4. The senior star wound up tying for second place with a four-day total of 297 — three shots off the medalist’s final score.
With her last college event completed, Brinker was deeply disappointed, but her coach, Roger Lundy, found the right words of consolation.
“On the ride home, she rode shotgun in the RV, and for the first 20 miles nobody said a word,” Lundy said. “Then I said, ‘In your career stats, other than in the nationals, you got beat only one time in three years. And you finished fourth, third and second in the NCAA and you were the unanimous choice for the Division III Player of the Year two years in a row. I don’t know how you do better than that. I’m never going to coach another player like you.’
“Then she said, ‘I guess you’re right.’ ”
Another setback to overcome
After her last NCAA try, her degree in hand and her health in good working order, Brinker was prepared to set her world on fire.
With her long-held ambition of playing in the LPGA in mind, she accepted an invitation to play for Team USA at the 12th World University Golf Championship at the Sun City Resort in South Africa in early September 2008.
Well before leaving, Brinker said she also hoped to go on a safari and ride an elephant.
Then suddenly she threw her back out and was confined to bed rest for two months.
“I called my coach for USA team and told her I can’t go, but she wanted me to wait,” Brinker said.
Brinker was glad her coach maybe knew something she didn’t.
“I got two epidurals and jumped on a plane and went to Africa. There were four of us. Three play on a team, and they take the two best scores,” Brinker said. “The night before she had to turn in the roster, she asked me if I could do it. Even though I hadn’t played in two months, I told her I could. I came in second overall, and I thought that was pretty good.”
Just as in the NCAA finals, Brinker didn’t quite win, but her second-place effort was most, if not all, the talk.
Upon her return from South Africa, she had back surgery. It was the first of five operations in five years, not counting another one to — believe it or not — treat a ruptured appendix in 2009.
The fifth back surgery (in 2012) was the longest and most extensive.
“It was an eight-hour deal, and it was from (spinal discs) L5 to S1,” she said. “They went in from the front and the back and I got rods, screws and plates.”
The series of surgeries proved to be successful, and Brinker was released to play golf again.
“I started to play for just for fun, which I had never done before,” she said.
The new casual approach didn’t last long. Brinker was soon invited to compete in a chapter championship tournament in the EWGA. Those competitive juices started to heat up and bubble again.
Brinker advanced from the chapter event in Indiana and then the regional event in Ohio to reach the national competition at the Wigwam Resort in Phoenix in the summer of 2013.
There, Brinker finished tied for second place.
In 2011, she married Zach Brinker. This past February, she gave birth to a boy, Nolan, to take care of along with a baseball- and basketball-playing stepson, Cameron.
Brinker also works full time for Perq, a marketing firm on the Northside of Indianapolis, where she’s in charge of logistics, managing hundreds of shipments each week.
Her goal is to return to the EWGA nationals, which this year is being hosted by the Hermitage Golf Course in Old Hickory, Tennessee in October.
Before that is the semifinal at Covered Bridge Golf Club in Sellersburg.
Her mentor and friend
Brinker doesn’t dwell on setbacks. In her mind, there are too many blessings in her life to count. And considering the weight of her responsibilities, she wouldn’t have time for negatives anyway.
Her chief motivation is to make her family and friends proud.
They include Lundy, who’s the director of junior golf development at Indiana Golf in Franklin in addition to coaching both the women’s and men’s golf teams at Franklin College.
“I just went out to see him the other day. He’s always very busy,” Brinker said. “I’d say he saved my life. I was once in a bad state, and he never gave up on me.
“I’m the reason for at least 40 percent of his gray hair,” she added with a smile. “He helped me put things in perspective. One time he made me go hug my mother, saying you can never forget what’s important.”
Lundy pointed out Brinker always wanted to play against the best.
“And she hates losing,” he said.
When Brinker broke out one of her drivers to begin play in the EWGA competition this past weekend, playing hurt was just the same old, same old.
During her brilliant three-year career at Franklin College, Brinker was medalist in all but one regular season tournament, including three Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship events.
She was not always up to playing, physically that is.
Brinker noted she didn’t really have any feeling in her right leg from her knee down to her foot throughout her college years.
“I just played through it,” she said.
Those most familiar with Brinker’s story under no circumstances would have expected otherwise.