The final scorecards won't be turned in until Saturday, but Hank Kuehne already feels like a winner at the Porter Cup amateur golf tournament.
Every day that Kuehne (pronounced KEE-nee) plays golf, regardless of his score, he feels like a winner. Every day that he sees the sky, regardless of whether the sun is shining, he feels like a winner.
Every day that Kuehne, 21, stays sober and wakes up with a clear head is more satisfying than the greatest round of golf he could ever shoot.
"The road that I traveled to get here is a little bit different than everybody else's," the McKinney, Texas, resident said. "The obstacles I've overcome are different."
One would never guess that, in this field of mostly clean-cut, sharply dressed young men competing in this most gentlemanly of sports, there could be a recovering alcoholic. But that's what Hank Kuehne is. And, as a clear indication of how far he has progressed in the two-plus years since he began receiving treatment, he doesn't show the slightest fear or apprehension in discussing this highly personal and terribly unpleasant subject.
He isn't afraid to tell you that he wasn't a happy child -- that growing up in an affluent, loving, golf-consumed family didn't bring him the same joy it brought his older brother, Trip, or his younger sister, Kelli, both of whom are also top golfers. He still doesn't know all of the reasons why he felt the way he did, but the low self-esteem that resulted from learning disabilities (dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder) played a big part in his constantly feeling depressed, scared and alone.
He isn't afraid to tell you that he got drunk for the first time at the tender age of 11. Or that he was drinking five times a week in high school. Or that, while bending over to tee up a practice shot while on the golf team at Highland Park High in Dallas, he occasionally blacked out or nearly threw up. Or that he drank until he passed out. Or that, when his parents were out of town, he went on a binge that left him bed-ridden and vomiting for three days straight.
Ernie Kuehne, a big-time Texas attorney, describes his son's recovery as an "unbelievable accomplishment" and ranks it as the greatest of his family's many triumphs. He and his wife, Pam, had never suspected Hank had a drinking problem because he showed up for every meal and was almost always where he was supposed to be.
But Trip Kuehne, 25, who is also playing in the Porter Cup, knew something was wrong, "because I was always getting my brother out of some sort of trouble."
Rock-bottom came on Feb. 3, 1995. That was the day Hank, at 19 and with alcohol in his system, drove a car through a stop sign and crashed into another vehicle in Stillwater, Okla., where he was a scholarship freshman golfer at Oklahoma State. The accident left him with a concussion, glass shards in his eyes, and four broken ribs. But the reason he was crying in the ambulance was because he thought he had killed someone in the other car. He hadn't. The most seriously injured person in the other car had a broken leg.
Hank spent two hours in jail because he refused to submit to a sobriety test. Trip bailed him out, gave him a hug, said he loved him, and begged him to "get better."
Two weeks later, Hank checked himself into the Hazelden Center for Youth and Families, an alcohol and drug treatment facility in Plymouth, Minn. After three and a half months, he returned home, then transferred to Southern Methodist University, where he will begin his junior year next month.
Kuehne's roommate at Hazelden was "a guy on a permanent acid trip." Another fellow patient he got to know was addicted to heroin. Another was a crack addict.
"Their stories were exactly the same as mine," Hank said. "They weren't some kids off the street whose parents didn't take care of them. These were people who came from the same kind of family that I did.
"The only differences were that you replaced heroin and crack with alcohol . . . and that I played golf."
Golf has played a huge role in Kuehne's ability to stay sober, especially in the early stages after Hazelden.
"It gave me something to do all day long every day," he said. "I could get up in the morning at 7 o'clock and I could play golf until dark. And if you do that, you're too tired to do anything else except eat and go to sleep."
He goes to therapy once a week. He often speaks to groups of teen-agers about the evils of alcohol abuse, describing every ugly detail of his own experiences.
Hank prides himself on being up-front and direct.
"I don't have anything to hide anymore," Kuehne said. "If I have any problems or there's anything that I think or feel, I say it. We talk about it and we work it out, then and there.
"I'm a happier person. I'm happier with myself, happier with my surroundings, happier with the life that I'm leading."
After a hot day on the course, Kuehne is comfortable drinking Dr. Pepper while many of his golfing buddies drink beer. He doesn't mind when they refer to him as the "permanent designated driver." He has no problem buying a round for the boys and carrying their beers to them.
He and his older brother regularly play together in amateur tournaments and give each other golfing advice. Trip, who is married and works at a money-management firm in Dallas, used to watch Hank like a hawk off the course. But he has far greater confidence in his brother's judgment.
"A month or two out of rehab, I was really worried, but not anymore," Trip said. "He knows what alcohol does to him and that one sip or one drink can put him right back to where he was before."
Hank is 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds and can hit a golf ball more than 300 yards. He can out-drive his friend and former amateur opponent, Tiger Woods, who provided support during Hank's rehabilitation.
During Wednesday's opening round of the Porter Cup, Hank was 4 under par after 11 holes, but then made a series of mistakes that resulted in a disappointing 74.
His goal is to graduate from SMU, where he is majoring in communications. His dream is to one day qualify for the PGA Tour.
But he isn't in any hurry.
"I'm just happy to be playing," Kuehne said. "When I was in rehab with four broken ribs, at a place where there was five feet of snow on the ground, I thought my golfing days were over.
"So I'm just happy to be able to play the game that I love."