TAMPA, Fla. -- Rufus Myers loved to play golf. He once even got a hole-in-one. Then a bacterial infection took his fingers and legs.
The 64-year-old Marine Corps veteran thought he would never get another chance to hit the links.
Thanks to Howard Kaplan's biomedical engineering students at the University of South Florida , Rufus is getting to play his favorite game again.
The prosthetics team at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, led by Mike Kartel, reached out to USF to find out if the school could create a hi-tech experimental grip so Rufus could swing a club.
Kaplan believed he and his students were up to the unique challenge.
“When I first heard that,” says Kaplan, smiling, “I said, 'Yeah, let’s do it!'”
The experiment started a few months ago using a 3D printer, golf physics and good old-fashioned trial and error. Rufus has given the students positive, instructive feedback every step of the way.
The biggest problem to tackle? How golf is actually played.
"It is a finesse game," says Kaplan.
The prosthetic grip has to bind the hand and club in just the right way. It cannot be too tight or too loose. It has to take into account Rufus' weight and movement while not putting undue stress on other parts of his body.
After months of testing, Rufus is now practicing on the putting green at the VA hospital.
"He is so happy to be golfing and doing things he's always wanted to be doing," said Penny Myers, Rufus' wife of 45 years.
The Marine vet is awed by technology and thrilled to be swinging a club again.
“Beautiful,” Rufus said as he chipped some balls. “Wonderful.”
He is about one month away from playing 18 holes for real. Another hole-in-one is now a real possibility.
“You never know,” he says. “You just never know.”