NJSGA People: The Inspiring Story of Keith Buff

NJSGA People: The Inspiring Story of Keith Buff

Following a match in the 1999 club championship of Rumson County Club, an event he had won in 1995 and 1996, Keith Buff suffered a brain hemorrhage known as an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). A father of three, he was left severely disabled, unable to talk, walk or swallow on his own.

He has come nearly all the way back against unbelievable odds. His story recently has been made into a documentary titled Against The Tide: A Surfer’s Journey by Navesink Studios. The 28-minute film has been accepted into the Asbury Park Film Festival this March 24-28.

He also has written a book on his plight on his five-year journey to recovery called: Determination: Surviving a Devastating Brain Trauma (available on Amazon.com). Currently, he is hard at work on a second book dedicated solely to golf.

A most positive person and today a motivational speaker, Buff acknowledges the healing power of friendship, family, and having a positive outlook on life.

A daredevil as a young man, he earned awards for surfing, sailing, skateboarding, and skiing. And that was all before he devoted himself to golf at age 23.

After his recovery, he has since 2007 volunteered as a golf instructor in the junior program at Rumson Country Club. He has guided students such as 2018 NJSGA Open Champion Chris Gotterup and talented brothers Charlie and John Edler, who played collegiately at Dartmouth College and Bucknell University, respectively. Charlie Edler was the 2009 NJSGA Junior Championship runner-up.

“Keith helped us understand the fundamentals of the game. It was extremely helpful, and looking back, I am personally very grateful for his time,” said Gotterup, a senior on the Rutgers University golf team and the Big Ten Conference 2020 Player of the Year.

“Keith had a great way of dealing with us, and you could tell he loved every second of it. I was probably around 10, 11, or 12 years old when he helped me with the game. It’s always great to see Keith on a random day at Rumson. He is always so happy to see me, and I will always be grateful for what he has done to give back to the game and how it has helped me become the golfer I am today. I’m so happy for him and his recent honor of getting this documentary into the Garden State Film Festival.”

The documentary is a production of Navesink Studios. It is Buff and his friends’ story during their teenage years, how they loved everything to do with the Atlantic Ocean, Sandy Hook Bay, and the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers.

As the years pass and people separate, the documentary reconnects them through Buff’s health emergency and revisits their friendship bonds and how the area surfing community helped him get through his AVM.

“We both lived in Rumson, and we met as young kids surfing,” said Navesink Studios’ owner Chris Brenner, who has produced a series of historical films regarding the northern Shore area of New Jersey.

“In the 10 years since we’ve reconnected, he has made tremendous progress. For a long time, I thought about making a film about the nostalgia of that era of the 1970s and 1980s, of surfing Sea Bright and Sandy Hook,” he said.

“After reading Keith’s book Determination, I thought it was a great idea to tie in that surfing culture with Keith’s story of tragedy and recovery. “He was by far the best surfer among us. He had it all. He was the most athletic of the group. He was a very fearless and popular guy. But he never looked down on us because he was a better surfer. Everybody has said that about him. He was always a nice guy, and he didn’t have to be,” Brenner said.

“He never tired of practicing and mastering tricks in both surfing and skateboarding. Those qualities allowed him to overcome that AVM.”

Brenner is hoping that Against The Tide: A Surfer’s Journey is well received by the critics and possibly made into a feature film.

“We’ve had some limited showings, and people who have seen it remark that seeing Keith’s story puts things in perspective. There are people out there who have gone through things you can’t imagine. I feel Keith’s story can have an impact on people and inspire them.”

Buff is grateful for Brenner’s effort in developing the documentary. But Buff, himself had a difficult time during some parts of the film where he is depicted in his struggle to overcome multiple handicaps.

“I’m thankful for my friends, my faith in God, and my personal determination to be able to recover. Even I had a tough time watching the film and visually saw all the hardships I had to endure. It makes you stop and shake your head. My progression from a wheelchair to where I am today can inspire many people going through difficult times, especially today,” Buff said.

His recovery was and is to this today truly remarkable. One doctor gave him a less than one percent chance of ever walking again. His family and friends came to the rescue, researching different ways to speed his recovery, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, magnesium injections, occupational, physical, and spinning therapies; radiosurgery, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture, among others.

Some of the proceeds from his book, documentary, and public speaking benefit a variety of charities.

“People will say look at what he went through. I’m fortunate I have determination. If I didn’t, I would have quit years ago. There are setbacks in life, and when you’re at that crossroads, you can only go in one of two directions. What the one doctor said motivated me.”

Buff is not one to stand still. Currently, he is working on a second book, this one dedicated to golf. He likens it to Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf.

Following graduation from Northwood Institute in Michigan, Buff dove headfirst into the intricacies of golf. He studied books, tapes, and magazines, and he tried virtually every helpful hint on the market. Remarkably, by the mid-1990s, he was down to a one handicap and good enough to win those club championships at Rumson CC in 1995 and 1996.

He also won the club’s Men’s Invitational there in 1995 with partner John Allegra.

“It got to the point where people would see me improve and ask me for advice on the range. Then the AVM happened, and I had to learn the game all over again. I’m still learning the game. I am writing the book, while all the stuff I’ve learned is still fresh on my mind. Instead of people bothering me on the range, I’ll say, ‘Here’s the book. It’s all in there,” Buff said.

He noted a lot of golf instructional guides delve too deeply into analytic breakdowns.

“This book will be simple. If you are slicing the ball, it will tell why you are slicing it and how to correct it. Each instance will be two or three pages. It will be like a bible, basically, exactly like the Little Red Book. You know what you’re looking for and go exactly to that chapter. It goes back to basics. It can be something golfers can re-read at the beginning of each season.”

Buff said he could get his messages across to junior golfers because he has invested so much time in the game.

“Because I studied the game, and I had the knowledge to succeed, I understand what it takes. Now, I only play nine holes at the most because my body won’t allow me to do what I used to do. But I can convey my thinking, which has helped the beginners tremendously.”

Said Rumson Country Club president Brett Flynn whose son, Padraig, has learned under Buff: “The key with Keith is his patience with the kids. Golf is a game of patience, and some of the younger kids have less patience, which I understand.

“It’s a wonderful thing that Keith has donated time and focus for years now. He told me it is just as rewarding to him as it is to the kids. He has turned a tough situation into a nice opportunity for both the children and himself. His instruction has always been something that’s been welcomed here. It’s a help and almost a relief for the professional staff. Teaching some of the real young kids can be very daunting, but Keith does it well.”

The Director’s Cut of "Against The Tide: A Surfer's Journey” by Navesink Studios can be viewed here:


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