May 09, 2003 11:00 pm

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

Enterprise's Grady Rawls has had a great golf season so far.

He's tied for medalist honors at a couple of meets and he's consistently shooting in the 70s, about eight strokes lower than last year.

He is also hoping to help lead his team to a district title next week and an appearance at the state tournament.

But, for all those worthy accomplishments, just being able to stand up and swing a golf club, period, is probably Rawls' greatest accomplishment this season.

Just three months ago, Rawls suffered a horrific ankle injury. It was so gruesome that it had Enterprise athletic director and boys' golf coach Mike Crawford wondering if Rawls would ever walk again.

At a game at Grant Union February 15, Rawls, a standout hoops player, landed awkwardly on his right ankle and sustained a "compound dislocation" of the joint. One of his ankle bones literally burst right through the skin and Rawls holds his fingers six inches apart to describe the wound.

"Blood was shooting everywhere," he said.

Crawford, who is also the Enterprise girls' coach, was in the Grant Union gym. It was a sight he'll never forget.

"I was there the night he did it. I didn't know if he would ever walk again," he said.

Rawls was rushed to a hospital in John Day for emergency surgery. He underwent a second surgery in La Grande.

Rawls at first was hoping that he might be able to return for the rest of basketball season, but the doctors told him that would be impossible with such a severe injury. He could have been excused if he had just given up on the idea of playing any more sports this year.

He then spent the next six weeks in a recliner and another four weeks wearing a protective boot.

Though Rawls' basketball season abruptly ended, he began hoping he could return to the golf team. While golf isn't as hard on the ankle as basketball obviously, it still means having to walk 18 holes while carrying a heavy golf bag. It also means being able to maintain good form on his swing, which isn't easy if he can't put his full weight on both legs.

Rawls was eager to find out if he could play, though.

"The day I got the boot off I went out and played," he said.

It was awkward at first, because he kept putting too much weight on his left leg during his swing.

Rawls said it doesn't bother him nearly as much now, though the ankle does get sore during a round of golf, usually around the 15th or 16th hole. Rawls has had to go through a regimen this season of keeping his leg elevated after a round of golf and keeping it wrapped in an Ace bandage.

Crawford said that when Rawls first came back to the golf team last month, he literally was playing on one leg.

But, Crawford said golf turned out to be good physical therapy to get Rawls' ankle back in shape.

Crawford also said Rawls has a great attitude, "especially considering where he started from" at the beginning of the year.

Crawford said one of the things that has helped Rawls is that Enterprise has a talented golf team, so there wasn't a lot of pressure on Rawls at first to perform well.

At first Enterprise asked the Oregon State Activities Association if Rawls could play golf in a cart. The OSAA ruled against it, saying a cart could not be allowed because Rawls had an injury, not a disability.

Rawls understood this ruling.

"When you sprain an ankle, they don't just let you play basketball in a wheelchair," he said.

Rawls said some of the other kids have kidded him about the injury, but he's OK with that. He said the La Grande golfers, who he calls a "great group of guys" started referring to him as "Casey Martin," the disabled golfer who won a Supreme Court case to use a golf cart on the pro golf tour.

Rawls, a senior, said he was hoping to play basketball in college, but he put the emphasis on "was." He said at this point, he will probably take a year off from trying to play competitive basketball in college.

Crawford said he appears to pretty much be all the way back from the injury, though he thinks Rawls is downplaying how tough it is for him to play.

"I think there's still some pain there," Crawford said.