Murph's Turf: Jacobson lands in a trap, but chips out for a birdie

 Greg Jacobson wasn’t hitting fairways and he was missing greens. For a casual golfer, those mistakes could be attributed to a lack of practice and experience. Jacobson, however, was no casual golfer.

He had played at Williams College, serving as team captain, and for several years in the early 1980s he competed professionally on the Space Coast Pro-Tour, hoping to  work his way up to the PGA Tour. When that didn’t happen, Jacobson regained his amateur status and became a fixture at the Ridgefield Golf Course, winning three club championships and also competing in Connecticut State Golf Association tournaments.

Considering the pedigree, Jacobson’s struggles, which began six years ago, seemed odd, perplexing.

“I thought my game would come back,” said Jacobson, who now lives in Wilton. “I thought it was temporary.”

There were physical difficulties — some numbness in his left hand and both feet — that were contributing to Jacobson’s poor play, and his doctor believed Lyme disease was the cause, even though numerous tests were either negative or marginally positive. For two years, Jacobson pumped himself full of antibiotics, thinking that the symptoms would subside and his golf game would resurface.

Neither happened. Jacobson’s symptoms worsened and others emerged, including a loss of balance that led to several spills on the uneven terrain of golf courses. A visit to a vascular specialist revealed no circulatory problems but did result in a referral to a neurologist.

After several consultations and tests, the neurologist had a diagnosis.

“He told me, ‘I can’t say it any other way ... but you have multiple sclerosis,’ ” recalled Jacobson. “I asked him what do we do now, and he said, ‘you have progressive multiple sclerosis, there’s nothing we can do.’ ”

Jacobson walked to his car, sat down in the front seat, and called his wife, Alison. “I couldn’t even get the words out,” he said. “It was devastating.”

Following several agonizing weeks — “I had my pity party,” said Jacobson — Alison  went Knute Rockne. “She said we weren’t going to keep feeling sorry for ourselves,” said Jacobson. “She said we were not only going to make our lives better but also make the lives of others better.”

The pep talk refocused Jacobson and led to the creation of Accessible Home Living, a company — started by Jacobson and his wife — that designs and installs various types of accessibility home improvements, including bathroom ramps, residential elevators and accessible modular in-law suites.

“It’s a great feeling to help people make their homes more accessible,” said Jacobson. “It’s the most rewarding work I have done.”

Unable to play the sport he loves, Jacobson has stayed involved by speaking at golf events on behalf of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Based on that experience, Jacobson got together with some longtime friends at the Ridgefield Golf Club and decided to start a benefit tournament, back at the course where he used to be a regular.

The end product is The Jake (in honor of Jacobson’s nickname), a traditional best-ball tournament for teams of two players that will take place Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Ridgefield Golf Course. The event will have men’s and women’s divisions (80% handicap used) and a scratch (no handicap) division.

“We’re going to keep on doing this, year after year after year after year,” said Jacobson, “until there’s a cure for MS.”

Jacobson still has numbness is his extremities and now also suffers from short-term memory loss and spasticity in his legs at night. Although he has benefited from Ampyra, known as the walking drug, Jacobson relies on a cane for standing and walking and scooters for getting around in malls and supermarkets.

“It’s a struggle, but I feel positive and grateful every day,” he said. “I’ve learned to appreciate things that I didn’t before. That has been a huge lesson for me.”

Jacobson last played golf three years ago, but says he doesn’t miss it as much as he would have thought.

“Would I like to play again? Yes. Can I live without it? Absolutely,” said Jacobson. “My priorities have had to change, but that’s not a bad thing. As I tell people when I speak at events, I came out the other end better than I went in.”