Rick Grayson rolled up on a golf cart to the Connie Morris Learning Center at Rivercut Golf Course on a windy Monday morning after squeezing in a quick nine holes.
Asked how he hit the ball, Grayson smiled and said, “Not too bad … for a guy with one knee.’”
Grayson doesn’t let a few errant golf shots — or much of anything else — bother him these days. One of America’s top golf instructors, who has called Springfield home for 46 years, is back doing what he loves.
“I’m fortunate because I get to help people improve something they already love and it makes it more enjoyable for them,” Grayson said.
But for a while, Grayson’s career — not to mention his right leg below the knee — was in doubt. In 2019, four weeks after a knee replacement, Grayson contracted a rare infection in the knee. After getting that under control, a fungal infection appeared.
“When that happened, they had to go in and take the artificial knee out and put spacers in and try to get rid of the fungus,” Grayson said. After about six months of treatment, the fungus re-appeared.
That led to IV antibiotics, oral medication and complete rest. In 2020, he gave one golf lesson. He was able to return to teach the last few months of 2021 as the healing process continued.
“It’s tested negative for 10 months now,” Grayson said of infection, noting that if the trend continues he’s scheduled for another knee replacement in September that hopefully will give him normalcy.
“I still have spacers there, but I’m back to normal activity,” Grayson said, which includes teaching and playing golf. “Knock on wood, the fungus stays away. And they think it will.”
Asked how mentally difficult it was to be sidelined from his job for so long, Grayson, 67, gave a surprising answer.
“Not tough at all,” he said. “That’s because at that point, I’m more worried about keeping my leg and getting healthy. You know, golf would be a plus if I could do it.
“The main focus was to get rid of this because the negative side of the fungus is it could spread and go to other parts of your body. And that, that’s really bad. It was more my focus on getting well enough to live a normal life, so to speak. If it meant golf, that would be a bonus.”
Chasing his passion for teaching
Named one of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 instructors for more than 25 years, Grayson has been teaching the game since 1976. A native of Pryor, Oklahoma, Grayson played golf at Park University in Kansas City where he was a co-captain for a team that finished 19th in the NAIA his senior season.
“I was a good player in college, but not an all-American,” Grayson said. He set out to become a PGA Teaching Professional and, five winters in a row, traveled to Florida to observe some of the best teachers in the business including Bob Toski, Jim Flick and Hank Haney.
“It was just a passion of mine, something that I wanted to do,” Grayson said of teaching the game for a living. “I wanted to become better at teaching and it wasn’t so much for my own game, but more about trying to help golfers that were struggling.”
Grayson’s teaching work in the Springfield area, from his home base at Rivercut, is renowned. The 2018 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inductee especially loves teaching the game to youngsters who can play for free at Rivercut’s four-hole junior course.
“We try to make it fun for the kids,” Grayson said. “If you make it fun for them, they’ll want to keep doing it.”
From teaching pro to budding author
Grayson’s favorite week of the year is next week. He plans to travel to Augusta National in Georgia next week for the 14th time to watch practice rounds and the opening round of the Masters Tournament.
Golf history, and particularly Masters’ history, intrigues Grayson. He’s written a book on the Masters and its first winner, Springfield native Horton Smith, that he hopes will be published this spring.
The book includes 284 Masters facts. Why 284? That was Smith’s winning score at the first Masters in 1934, for which Smith pocketed $1,500.
“I like to look back at the history of the game and see how the game has evolved to where it is today,” Grayson said. “The Masters has always intrigued me more than the other tournaments.”
So Grayson will get to walk the hallowed grounds of Augusta next week, then return home for a spring of teaching and playing the game he loves.
Life is good. A few bad golf shots, he can live with.