6 Remarkable Golfers Who Overcame Their Disabilities
GOLF is a great leveller. It is, in equal measure, the most rewarding yet the most frustrating game. It has reduced grown men and women to tears. Even if you have never thrown a club in anger, there will have been times when you have been tempted to do so. Just when we think we have got it cracked, it jumps up and slaps us down again with a painful reminder of just how difficult it can be.
For able-bodied individuals it is difficult enough, but imagine how hard it must be for disabled golfers. And there’s the rub - all over the world tens of thousands of people suffering from all kinds of physical and mental disabilities get the same enjoyment from this wonderful game as the rest of us. Here, we look at a few remarkable individuals. No doubt you will be able to tell us about some you have come across too.
You won’t have heard of Kenny. He is somebody I have known for about 15 years and he is a quite remarkable individual. He drove for a living and was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right arm. Doctors concluded that the only way to get rid of it was to amputate Kenny’s right arm. It meant that he lost his job. He was right-handed, so it also meant that he had to re-learn every other basic skill that the rest of us take for granted. Eating, writing, driving a car, changing his clothes, washing… He would never admit it, but life must have been incredibly tough for him and his family. But Kenny Minter is a remarkable character, a man with a real zest for life. He picked up the pieces and got on with things, and always with a smile on his face. He had been a keen golfer, and would be the first to admit that he really wasn’t terribly good. But now he had time to kill. So he learnt how to play golf with one arm. And do you know what? He actually became a better golfer than he had ever been with two arms. We call him the one-armed bandit. He never misses a fairway and he chips and putts like a demon. The cancer returned, but he fought it off and, now into his seventies, he is still playing and is still making us all laugh. A true inspiration!
Manuel De Los Santos
You may well have seen De Los Santos. A one-time promising baseball player from the Dominican Republic, he lost a leg in a car crash and started playing golf in 2004. In daily life he uses a prosthetic, but he discards it on when he plays golf. In 2010 he was playing in the Dunhill Links Championship, off a handicap of three. He uses crutches to walk between shots but demonstrates amazing balance and coordination to hit shots while standing on one leg. And he hits the ball a mile.
Chris was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of five and went through chemotherapy before the cancer returned – doctors decided to amputate his left leg at the age of nine. It was a devastating, life-changing experience for a young boy. However, he chose to embrace it and has become an inspiration to many, and a leading light for disabled golf in the UK. He is not just any one-legged golfer. He is a professional, and a damn good one at that.“I am the assistant pro at Hanbury Manor,” he says. "Hopefully one day I can get a Head Pro’s job somewhere and see where it takes me really. My whole aim is to hopefully be one of the leading coaches in disability golf if it grows big enough and, as I say, get more people into it. Very much that is the aim but it might take me a few years to get there though!”
Newton lost the 1975 Open Championship in a playoff to Tom Watson. He was one of the best golfers in the world until, in July 1983, he walked into the spinning propeller of a light aircraft. He lost his right arm and eye, and sustained severe abdominal injuries. A severe rainstorm was in progress at the time. Doctors gave Newton a 50-50 chance of surviving. He spent several days in a coma and eight weeks in intensive care. After a prolonged rehabilitation from his injuries, Newton returned to public life as a television and radio golf commentator, newspaper reporter, golf course designer, public speaker and chairman of the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation. He taught himself to play golf one-handed, swinging the club with his left hand in a right-handed stance and at one time got back down to single figurers.
Green won five times on the PGA Tour. It is fair to say that the American had a troubled life. He was fined for sneaking friends into The Masters in the boot of his car and for drinking beer while playing with Arnold Palmer at Augusta in 1997. He suffered from depression, gambled and endured near financial ruin. He routinely found himself in trouble for swearing on the golf course and for criticising officials. His son committed suicide and Green himself had an alcoholic father and suffered years of sexual abuse. But his life was turned upside down when his motor home left the road and careered down an embankment before hitting a tree. His brother and girlfriend died in the accident and Green lost the lower part of his right leg. He vowed to return to competitive golf and, incredibly, did so on the Champions Tour.
Jones, from Manchester, was a professional golfer who lost his right leg during the First World War. It should have finished his sporting career. It didn’t. He returned home and taught himself to play again, initially walking on crutches and then employing a prosthetic. In his very first round without his right leg he shot an 83 at Royal Norwich. In 1923, Jones accepted the position of head professional at the Women's National Golf and Tennis Club in Long Island, New York. It marked the start of a long and distinguished career as a golf teacher, writing two books on the subject. In 1965 he was the recipient of the Ben Hogan award and in 1977 he was inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame. He was a man who made light of his disability.
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