Which Nick did,
settling in Myrtle Beach with his girlfriend, Kristen Sauro. He pulled his own
weight, as they say in the mines, working small jobs to pay down his
substantial debts and finance the $20,000 he needed for golf school. "I can
make the pro tour," he says, even though he is a seven handicapper. "I
have the game. I only need a little bit of help, like everybody else. The big
difference between Tiger Woods and me is opportunity. He got a chance to start
playing at a younger age than I did."
Helms reckons that
all he needs is a year or so of instruction and six to eight hours a day on the
course. "Once I get down to scratch, it'll all be course management,"
he says with unshakable certainty. "By the time I'm 35 I'll be pretty much
set. I'm not saying I'll go out there and win the Masters the first time out,
but, hey, who knows?"
To those who
suggest that 26 is a bit old to embark on a career in pro golf, Helms, whose
birthday was on June 3, says, "Anybody who tells me it's too late, that's
an ignorant opinion. They don't have my drive."
That drive, he
says, comes from Terry. "Dad always said you get what you work for,"
Nick says. "If you don't have what you want, you didn't work hard enough
Nick has had to
work hard for just about everything in his life. "It's been tough for him
since the very beginning," says his mother, Mary. "He was a tornado
baby." Nick was born two months premature during a terrible tornado and was
delivered in the dark. He was placed in a neonatal unit, where for days he was
tubed and suctioned. "His lungs weren't developed," Mary recalls.
"The doctors didn't think he'd make it. At two weeks Nick's heart stopped
beating and he actually died in my arms."
He was revived,
but not relieved. "Nick cried for a whole year," Mary says. "I
thought he hated me and didn't want me as his mother." The problem turned
out to be a staph infection that raged through his right side. The damage was
discovered during exploratory hip surgery when Nick was a year old; he
subsequently spent about six months in a full body cast. "His legs were at
right angles to his torso and bent at the knees," Mary says. "He looked
like a goalpost." The infection left Nick's right leg an inch shorter than
his left and accounts for his lopsided gait.
Morgantown, Nick lived for five years in a trailer in Tunnelton, a snip of a
village named for its location at the eastern end of the Baltimore & Ohio
Railroad tunnel, once the longest in the world. Eventually his parents built a
house in Newburg, a hardscrabble town in which people die at home with their
families around them or in the mine with the mountain fallen on them. "We
weren't poor and we weren't rich," Nick says. "We had what we
coalfields run from the West Virginia panhandle down through Kentucky, and
nowhere underground is the life of a miner easy. "It's good money,"
says Nick, "but awful work." Terry had wanted to be a forest ranger,
but he had a family to support. He began harvesting coal at 18 and stayed at it
for 32 years. "Dad never said anything about how dangerous his job
was," says Nick. "He downplayed everything."
explains why Nick downplays his infirmities. Hobbled and unable to raise his
right arm above his head, he still played baseball and basketball, and tried to
play football. "My physical problems don't matter," he says.
"They've never mattered. You do what you have to do."
He picked up golf
at 14. One day his grandfather Francis Barlow drove him to the Paradise Lake
course near Morgantown and handed him a club. "I started beatin' it and got
hooked," Nick says. He practiced every day, often with his father, who was
such an ardent hacker that he'd play nine holes after a long shift in the mine.
"I'd practice regardless of the weather," Nick says. "Me and Dad
once played in a downpour for three hours. Sleet, snow--it didn't matter if the
sky was black. It just didn't matter."