How sweet it is
Ben Alexander has what you would call a sweet golf swing: smooth and rhythmic, with a burst of power that sends the ball soaring as he swivels his hips. Except those are not his hips, exactly.
Alexander balances effortlessly on a pair of hip implants, his reconstructed joints enabling him not only to keep working as a PGA golf instructor but to maintain an impressive level of play. At 61, he can drive the ball 265 yards — free of pain and discomfort. It is a dramatic turnaround from a decade ago, when arthritis wracked his hips and left him hobbled.
“Surgery gave me my life back,” says Alexander, the 2004 Teacher of the Year for the Northern California PGA Section and an instructor at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove Golf Links. “It allowed me to continue my career as a golf professional.”
The secret to his newfound longevity is clearly visible on his X-rays — his hips look like the joints have been replaced with the front-end parts from a showroom Chevy. Indeed, when Alexander was wheeled into surgery for
his first hip replacement, the array of tools reminded him of an automotive garage.
Dr. Ronald Chaplan replaced Alexander’s joints with high-tech metal and synthetic components. Each hip now includes a prosthetic ball-and-socket assembly on a stem, anchored into the thigh bone. Chaplan performed the surgery at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, which does more hip and knee joint-replacement surgeries than any other hospital in the
“Ben is a great example of what people can attain,” Chaplan says. Alexander’s saga began in 1992, when pain in his right hip led to a diagnosis of arthritis. By 2002, he was limping in agony but unnerved by the prospect of surgery. He wrote to golf legend Jack Nicklaus, whose own hip surgery had been widely reported. Nicklaus wrote back, golf pro to golf pro, about his positive experience. Encouraged, Alexander had his first hip surgery in 2003 and was back teaching golf in nine weeks.
In 2009, after sharp pain invaded his left hip, he had his second hip surgery. This time, with improvements in rehabilitation, he was back
on the course and teaching in three weeks — one-third the time. Today he feels no pain and marvels at his range of motion. “The orthopedic surgeons at CHOMP are angels,” says Alexander, who hopes to continue playing and teaching golf into his 80s.
Chaplan says there is no reason to believe that won’t happen. Chaplan has practiced orthopedics in Monterey since 1981 and says joint-replacement surgery has special value for this region’s aging population, who tend to favor active lifestyles.
“We have been able to keep people involved in athletics,” Chaplan says. “Forty or 50 years ago, someone with hips like Ben’s would have been in a wheelchair.”