Every golfer has a story of the putt they holed, the chance they missed, and of the drive that was long and straight. Not every golfer, however, has a backstory that grabs one’s attention, that shows the human spirit and can fuel the can-do attitude that is inside every one of us.
The Golfers First Profiles came from a deep belief that everyone has a story, that is not only worth telling, but also worth sharing. Perhaps you or someone that you know is in need of a boost of inspiration or a signpost to what can be achieved.
18 – Richard Hoff
“Have fun and enjoy the time that you have on the golf course”
Listen to the full audio with EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting to Richard Hoff
“Have fun and enjoy the time that you have on the golf course,” advises Swedish golfer Richard Hoff. With golf star looks Richard plays the part well, shiny shoes, Swedish team uniform, wraparound sunglasses, a logo-heavy baseball cap and a classic golf swing.
Richard speaks with great certainty about his game which he has developed over the last couple of decades, initially with the help of his parents Charlotte and Per-Ola and latterly with the coaching team at Ljunghusens Golfklubb near Malmo. According to Richard he hits his irons well but has work to do on his chipping and putting, and he struggles with his concentration.
Richards introduction to the game came when his mother took him to the golf course as a young six years old boy. Charlotte was then and still is today a golf enthusiast and she recognised that the game could be something that would capture Richard’s attention. The Attention Deficit Disorder, commonly called ADD that Richard lives with means that he is prone to losing focus can lack attention and finds concentration difficult, but he has developed several tricks and tips, with the help of others to reach an impressive golf handicap of 6.8. Richard says, “When I am playing, it is hard for me to concentrate on golf sometimes…my tip is that when you have played the first shot from the tee, then you can talk to your caddie about things other than golf, and then when you come to play another shot, then you try to focus again.”
Go to any professional major championship and the hungry press in the media centre hear the superstars dissect their winning rounds as they lean on the age-old advice of the greats who have walked the walk, and state that they try to focus on one shot at a time, stay in the moment and try not to get ahead of themselves. Tactics such as these are critical for Richard who has had to develop the ability to ‘switch on’ when he gets over the ball and to ‘switch off’ in between shots. Charlotte and Per-Ola caddie for their son and are only too aware of their job, which is less about pulling the clubs around the course and reading the greens, but instead, it is more about keeping Richard in the moment when he stands to the ball and then chatting about anything but golf as they stride along the fairways between shots.
The feeling of friendship that Richard gets from being with the other members of the Swedish Handi-Golf team is very special. “When we are together it is so much inspiration, we have a great spirit, we have fun together, and everyone is very pleased,” says Richard, “Golf means everything to me, it’s my passion, I love golf, it’s so much fun to play.” At the recent Henrik Stenson Foundation Handi-Camp, which is supported by The R&A, Richard received a personal lesson from the 2016 Open Champion Henrik Stenson, who is often described as an all-around good guy. “It was amazing to meet [Henrik] and have fun with him, we worked in the bunker and he told me to put a little more weight on my left side,” says Richard who along with the other team members learned how Henrik prepares for the worlds biggest tournaments.
Everyday on the golf course is a big event for Richard who has fun and enjoys his time on the golf course, time does not stand still during his round, but at least it passes just a little slower when his attention is in the moment.
“I think people with disabilities have been given the wrong advice for a long time. ”
Founder of the United States Disabled Golf Association, Jason Hicks Faircloth talks with Tony Bennett about his life growing up with cerebral palsy
Listen to the full audio with EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting to Jason Faircloth
It has happened to all of us at one time or another. You are in your backyard, and your attention is on whatever it is you are doing at that moment, reading a book, doing a spot of gardening, or swinging a golf club, oblivious to anyone else, lost in the moment. Little did Johnny Paterson realise, as he hit one ball after the other, that he was quietly planting the seeds of golf in a young man who would develop a passion for the game that would take him to the home of golf, St Andrews in his quest to learn more and quench his thirst, at least temporarily.
Jason Hicks Faircloth was watching Johnny closely from next door, taking in the scene, building a picture in his mind of what a golf swing looks like and preparing his own pattern of movement that would serve him well. Jason is living proof of the age-old adage ‘never judge a book by its cover.’ The Cerebral Palsy which Jason lives with is very noticeable, “It affects every part of my life, including my speech,” he says, “I was told that I may never walk or talk, and so from early on it was clear that it was a pretty bad case.”
To understand Jason it is essential to get a feel for what he has endured over his 39 years on planet earth. Born in Clinton – North Carolina, he became the younger brother to his sister Catina and son to his loving parents Hicks and Mylinda. “Mom and Dad took me to physical therapy and occupational therapy three times every week. Every time it was hard, I was made to wear a cast, then it became leg braces, all of which was to help maintain the muscles in my legs in the hope that they would stay straight and not curve,” says Jason. “We would visit Dr Greene at the University of Chapel Hill a few times a year until my senior year of high school, and the effort my family put in was never-ending.” The relentless schedule of therapy sessions also included regular speech therapy, to help Jason talk, “They put peanut butter in my mouth to help develop the muscles I needed to be able to speak.” Jason understands the sacrifices that his family made and says, “If it hadn’t been for Mom and Dad, I wouldn’t walk or talk to this day. Lots of hard work on everyone’s part has allowed me to do both,” for which Jason is very grateful.
An understanding family and close circle of friends can be a place of sanctuary for many unwilling to face the world. Jason, however, is cut from different stuff and says, “Unfortunately you cannot control what everyone thinks but you can through your actions try to help them to understand. I think people see how it [CP] affects me, it’s an obvious impairment, but I just go out and live life and do everything the other guys do. I honestly think that this is the best way to teach others.” Challenging poorly formed perceptions seems to drive Jason, who explains that the first reaction of many is to think, “Look at this ‘poor guy’, he can’t do anything. That happens a lot, I can see it on their faces.” Jason thinks that this is the most frustrating thing to deal with, “I believe that having a speech issue is another problem that is often overlooked. Unfortunately, they look down on me as being dumb and not being capable of doing much. It’s just how it is. So I have to do much more work to get things done or to even get people to listen to me than the average person.”
The seeds that his neighbour planted started to germinate when his friend Brandon Williams began to play, and it was during his high school years when Jason really got the golf bug. Lakewood High School had a golf team and Jason played as the number three in both his freshman and sophomore years, before settling in at number four in his junior and senior years. After High School, Jason earned an Associates Degree in Business Administration from Sampson Community College, but it was golf that was calling. “Sometimes I am not that good at golf, but at least I say so, you won’t find me sugar coating it,” says Jason who explains how the Cerebral Palsy affects his game, “I have always thought I should swing and make the movements like everyone else and so it’s difficult to handle my expectations sometimes. Every day I’m learning that my muscles don’t work the way that they are supposed to. Some of my muscles have not fully developed, especially in my legs and even some of my neck muscles, which I find odd. Some people go to work for money – I go to work just to be able to walk, this is a big difference in mindset.”
Jason definitely sees golf as being part of his life work. It seems that he is always on the lookout for ways to contribute and learn more. He has a history of contribution, and in 2001 he volunteered for both the US Open and US Women’s Open, where Retief Goosen and Karrie Webb took home the trophies, “It was great to see how they prepared for the championships. I got to work with the caddies and could see them joke around off the course. I love seeing what goes on behind the scenes the most, it is very different than just being a spectator,” says Jason, who was back to volunteer in 2005, 2007 and 2014 versions.
Jason uses such opportunities to learn about himself, “I’m very competitive, which I knew beforehand. I’m trying to be more laid back, get over bad shots quickly and move on, but It is still a learning process,” says Jason. In 2011 Jason made a huge personal commitment that changed the way he looks at impairments, “I had never really considered competitions that were only for people with a disability until the Disabled British Open in St Andrews caught my attention. I saw how big these type of events really are. Luckily I was smart enough to realise that it was a big deal and so looked into it, and honestly, I am glad as it changed my entire thinking.” 88 golfers competed in the 2011 Disabled British Open and Jason came in at 6th place in his category and in 32nd place overall, “I didn’t stay for the awards ceremony which I later regretted, but when I returned in 2012 to play I promised myself that I would stay, needless to say, I came in 2nd.”
Jason is using his experiences to help others, “I think people with disabilities have been given the wrong advice for a long time. Mainly I’m talking about off the course, and it saddens me that a lot of people don’t yet take control their own life, but if they don’t learn how to, then, when they get older, it can be a real problem. I advise people that they can always do more than they think if they just believe.” Jason is equally strong with his advice when talking about golf, “You just have to go out and do it. If you have a disability and want to try golf, well just get to course or driving range and start asking questions. I can tell you that if you wait for some trained person to come over that only works with disabled players, then you probably will not ever get started in golf. Look, we know there a lot of golf professionals and organisations who focus on providing clinics and training specifically for golfers with impairment, this is needed and highly recommended.”
“We have steered a lot of new golfers to these programmes, and they are popping up all across the USA, but unfortunately, the ‘disabled community’ has been taught that they should look for programmes just for those with a disability. That’s sad, but it’s the type of thinking that most families have in their DNA,” advises Jason. “After I came back to the US from the Disabled British Open, I started to see that the USA hadn’t run a tournament like this, and so that was the beginning of the United States Disabled Golf Association.” It took several years for Jason to organise the first United States Disabled Open which was played in May 2018 and he attracted 48 golfers, Jason says that it is “My intention is to model the tournament on the Disabled British Open, and my goal is to make the Championship one of the best in the world.”
Remember the next door neighbour who was in his own bubble swinging the club and hitting balls in his yard? What would have happened if he had been pitching a baseball or shooting hoops? Would Jason Hicks Faircloth have found the game, which has become his purpose? I would like to think so, but in any case – thanks, Johnny.
Note: The United States Disabled Golf Association will organise the 2019 Open which will be announced shortly.
More information on the USDGA can be found at their website www.usdga.net or their facebook page usdisabledgolf, or by email at email@example.com
“Golf has brought both joy and passion into my life, showed me how strong that force and passion is, that it can really bring us out of tough situations. Golf really gave me my life back.”
Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with Caroline Larsson
In 2011, Caroline Larsson was a young woman of 22 from a small Swedish community, quietly focused on the start of her professional golfing career, with a loving family where three generations of Larsson had been running the local food store. You would thus assume that being caught up in the notorious earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand (6.2 on the Richter scale) – where Caroline found herself literally running for her life as 185 people died – would be the most traumatic event she faced in the early part of that year.
But it wasn’t. A matter of weeks afterwards, after struggling with a bad knee off-and-on, Caroline Larsson learned from her doctor that she was suffering from a rare form of bone cancer and it was aggressive. Amputation from above the right knee was her only solution. That Caroline was able to centre herself after this shattering news, to come into hospital just three weeks later, the day before the operation, shake hands with her surgeon and make a deal that he would “take my leg and give me back my life”, speaks volumes of her mental and physical courage. And knowing that her positive attitude was shaped by learning from her golf, that her golf experience actually helped her deal with this crisis, will cause anyone to pause.
The leg that would actually be amputated helped propel Caroline to safety, after she and her sister Louise had been enjoying lunch in a Christchurch restaurant in February 2011. During the first “big vibrations” it seemed that the staff had turned the music volume up too high, but in the slow seconds that followed it was all about instinct.
“Suddenly everything started to shake, it got more and more intense and we had to hold onto our table. Food was flying everywhere. I cannot remember thinking anything other than the need to run; we knew we had to escape from the building and anything that fell from the buildings above. I was just running, running, running.”
The sisters had to wait several days to get flights out of Christchurch. Louise’s flight was first and Caroline faced more anxious hours in the airport as another quake hit the city area, her flight might be cancelled; nervously watching on airport TV the “surreal” pictures of the neighbourhood where they had eaten lunch.
Being young and strong and only focused on one thing in the year before the quake – golf – she did well to not let it dominate her thoughts.The year 2010 was one of preparation for golf. “Practising, eating and sleeping, that was my only focus for a year,” explains Caroline. Sacrifices had to be made, the popular girl known as ‘Carro’ to friends and family was choosing golf as her career. An ideal fit for someone who has loved golf ever since first visiting Forshaga Golf Club with her father when eight years old, tricked into trying a little golf with the promise of an ice cream.
“I thought they’d only be a lot of old men there but I was surprised because there were a lot of kids at Forshaga Golf Club. Some of them were playing on the course and some of them were doing completely different stuff and I really liked that combination. I was really taken by the progress you could make by practising, of playing with friends with a handicap even if you’re a beginner. As a young girl I realised that if I go to the golf club and practise nobody can say I can’t play while with the other sport I loved [Swedish ‘Floorball’] you could find yourself on the bench, waiting again to get the opportunity to play.”
But Caroline loved the team element of Floorball (a kind of indoor ice hockey without the ice and skates) and though golf is a solitary sport while you’re hitting the ball, Caroline would always be playing or practising with someone, she was never the solitary golfer.
She was clearly in a permanent mini-team with her sister. “It was appealing to me to travel all over the world to play these nice golf courses, to be your own boss and work hard. I had my sister as well and she had earlier decided to be a professional which was also inspiring to me. We have always been supportive of each other.”
Caroline first attended a sports college which specialised in golf at age 16 and then through a university scholarship in South Carolina, where she loved the team golf. “It was really, really important and also joyful to play in a team.”
Thankfully, both this love of the inclusivity of the team and the mental resilience learned on the golf course would help her through when a doctor sat her down. She was expecting encouraging words about her knee injury, but Caroline would hear the words “cancer” and “amputation”.
Family and friends
When you hear Caroline talk today, her voice is strong, bright, with intelligence, humour and imagination shining through. Amazing to hear someone speak so well and to learn that she is now making a living from public speaking, seven years after the trauma of 2011.
“As I was thinking my career was in focus and ready for the Ladies European Tour, It was like somebody just crashed those pictures into a thousand pieces,” says Caroline. “Everything was gone, everything I believed for the future was gone. It was only a few weeks before when I was in the earthquake and back then I didn’t remember thinking anything, and it was the same here receiving the cancer diagnosis, and the picture just crashed.
“I don’t remember anything specific just being filled with an emotion that was so dramatic and uncertain about where life would lead.”
Later, after a walk with her boyfriend who was with her for the news, “I wanted to scream and be angry, frustrated, and I wanted to call my doctor back and ask if he was joking. It was like waking up from a nightmare.”
She was given three weeks before surgery. Gathering herself, Caroline sat down in a quiet spot with nature all around and phoned her Dad. She had the presence of mind to get her parents together at home so she could break the news in person.
“That was so emotional because of course they were not expecting anything like that to come into our lives. Since we were open about our feelings from the beginning it was much easier to work through that anger, frustration, also thankfulness, fear or happiness, together.
“So we all did those things together. We were angry together, we were crying together, we were laughing together and it felt so good that I didn’t need to be alone and they didn’t need to be alone.”
The first person she called next was her sister, her team mate. Then around 25 of Carro’s good friends – her wider team – all got a call from her, all on the same day, one after the other, as Carro said, “We’re in the same boat, let’s do this together. I can’t do it without you.”
Asked where she got the strength to make all those calls she says: “It was just so important that I would stay the same Carro, that they wouldn’t look at me differently, which I would hate. It comes back to being a team player and if they looked at me differently maybe I wouldn’t be in the team anymore. Like in the team as a family, the team as friends and that is one of the driving forces that I have.”
She may have caused her doctors to worry, but in this three-week build-up to surgery, Caroline chose to stick to a pre-diagnosis holiday booking and head for London. This journey took on special poignancy as she chose to ignore public transport and stride through London’s streets on two legs for the last time, while she was also able to focus her mind on what losing the leg would mean in the “second chapter of my life”, and those three weeks allowed her “to appreciate one last time, like carrying a glass of water, riding a horse, playing golf and going to London. And it was a physical and mental preparation and a way to say both thank you and goodbye.”
Again, when talking about coping, Caroline refers to the mental strength acquired through golf. She found herself using the same visualisation techniques, formerly for feeling comfortable under pressure when arriving on that first tee, now towards when she would have to walk through the doors of the hospital and wait for surgery. This capacity to focus, borne out of golf, would lead to that handshake with her surgeon. She had managed to control those first tee nerves. Yes, her legs shook on that last walk on two legs to the hospital, but Carro was ready.
‘Golf gave me my life back’
Five days after surgery Caroline was in the hospital’s rehab wing for the first time and she spotted a golf club in there. Thinking that if she could swing the club a little it would be a positive omen, “I asked the nurse to take a picture and she thought I was crazy and when I dropped my crutches I think she wasn’t breathing!
“Taking that golf club in my hand was like bringing back happiness because I remembered that eight year old girl, you know, who was running around the golf club and getting ice creams and finding that joy in playing.”
Buoyed by the thought she may be able to play again she looked online and typed in ‘one-legged golfer’ and soon found herself watching the video of EDGA golfer Manuel de los Santos from the Dominican Republic, who had lost his left leg after being hit by a motorbike before even taking up golf and now plays to a very high standard.
“I was inspired that he could find the balance, the power, to swing the golf club. I remember thinking I could find my own answers and sent the video to all my friends who thought I was crazy!”
But Caroline felt instinctively that she’d be able to play again. “I wasn’t thinking about scores and results but using that passion to bring me back to life.”
The first time she tried to hit balls on the range she could only manage 10 shots before being too tired, but could already see that she could make a good contact and “fly the ball”.
The Swedish championships were only two months after her surgery but Caroline aimed for that date to play competitively again. She worked hard on her physical rehabilitation and her coach Fredrik Eliasson backed her even though he was concerned whether she could make it. “He didn’t tell me of his concerns, just supported me, and this was a huge success factor.
“And I went with the team to Barseback, and we went out to play, me and my sister, and it was a really big success and I could hit the ball really well.”
That was just the start of her return to competitive golf. Caroline was able to reproduce much of the timing, balance and power from before her surgery and confidence flourished as the joy of golf once again started to consume her. Fast forward just a little and Caroline Larsson’s name is engraved on the winner’s trophy of the (then EDGA) European Individual Championship for 2012 and 2014.
Perhaps this competitive success proved something to Caroline about surviving the trauma of the loss of her leg. Certainly that love of team had remained much in evidence since 2011 and little by little she was changing course as she started to find that public speaking was helping herself and other people.
“I was so inspired by the support I got from others throughout my [recovery] process and because I knew how far that support could take you, I just realised I wanted to share this, this vision, these thoughts, inspirations with others.”
And playing golf, playing that first tournament back with her sister, played such a big part.
“Golf has brought both joy and passion into my life, showed me how strong that force and passion is, that it can really bring us out of tough situations. Golf really gave me my life back.”
The result of this change has meant the end of her competitive golf with EDGA, and her fellow players do hope to see her on the fairways again, but it’s the start of a new chapter which is seeing Caroline offer inspiration and positive and practical support to help companies and sports teams to get more out of themselves and reach their potential as groups and individuals.
While very confident now on the stage with the microphone, it has taken seven years to get there, with her fair share of slips that will beset anyone speaking to audiences. Caroline is an Ambassador for Allianz and also a supporter of the Swedish charity the Star for Life Programme.
Thoughts and advice for others who may be nervous about speaking in public?
“Speak from the heart. It sounds cheesy I know. The most important thing is to stay alive as a speaker, to stay interesting for yourself and your audience and to be authentic, to speak from your heart. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake or you fail, it doesn’t matter. Our thoughts about failure are just thoughts, they are not reality.”
Certainly Caroline was speaking from her heart when she ran an event for the Star for Life programme last year.
One of Caroline’s dreams has been to finance a primary school in South Africa within the Star For Life Programme, whose aim is to provide education to children and young people in the most vulnerable areas regarding HIV and AIDS in South Africa. It was during her first trip to the KwaZulu-Natal area when Caroline was touched by the children and their desire to achieve their dreams, despite all the miseries that surrounded them. Caroline did not see any victims, rather “children with shining eyes that overwhelmed the visitors with love and gratitude” now they knew that they had a chance to make their dreams come true.
Speaking on the night, Caroline hoped to raise €2.500 but the audience liked this dream of hers and €17,000 was raised, enough to pay for three years of education for the 430 South African boys and girls.
Caroline says: “Having a dream can make it easier to take decisions for yourself for the future… and try to build your path in life. It was really compelling to me to help build dreams because it was one of the things that for me played such a big role, to live a dream for the future to get back out there even when life was so hard and so tough.”
Dreams and nightmares. Living a life seems to require both. But it is often trauma and major change that shapes character and forces a person to find their best qualities.
Three weeks after that first chat with a doctor, thanks to her own strength, partly forged on the practice tee, and much shaped by the love of family and friends, Carro was able to look her surgeon in the eye and say: “When you take my leg, you are going to give me life. He then said ‘let’s make a handshake to that’, and that felt really good.”
“If there is something you really want to do – no matter how impossible it may seem – with enough hard work and perseverance you can do it”
American golfer Dennis Walters talks with Tony Bennett about how his life took a dramatic turn following an accident with a golf buggy which caused him to become a T12-paraplegic
Listen to the full audio with EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting to Dennis Walters
Dennis Walters has in his own words been on ‘tour’ for more than 40 years. With three thousand events under his belt, Dennis has travelled the world, played and performed at most of the great courses including Augusta, St Andrews and Pebble Beach, and has touched the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Dennis started his love affair with golf right from the get-go. Starting at just eight years of age he was captured by nature and wildlife found on the course and was intrigued by the way the golf ball cut through the air along with the effortless swings of top players. Like many at that age, putting was great fun, and he spent hours rolling the ball along the smooth green surface towards the mini-flags on the putting green. In just four short years he had decided that golf was going to be his life and that the ‘tour’ was where he belonged. Dennis worked hard at this game to take his place lining-up against some incredibly talented players.
Dennis talks about the first time he saw golf, how the flight of the ball intrigued him and the way he started to play AUDIO: 1. Dennis first touch – 4.00 mins
With a passion for the game that knew no bounds, Dennis improved a lot and ended up playing on the team of North Texas State University on the Tucker Intercollegiate Tour. He was one to watch and frequently locked horns on the golf course with players such as Craig Stadler, Lanny Wadkins, Jerry Pate and Andy North. All four of these players went on to win at least one Major Championship. Dennis produced some stellar play as a college player, winning many medals as the leading amateur and just missed out by two strokes to earn the trip of a lifetime to play the Masters. In those days they took the leading eight players from the US Amateur and although agonisingly close, he would make the trip to play at Augusta much later in life.
The next step in his career plan was the South African Tour. The so-called Sunshine Tour was for many years a fantastic grounding for aspiring players from America and Europe. The standard of competition was high, the courses excellent and the weather perfect. Once again Dennis had the opportunity to sharpen his skills against players such as Gary Player, Hugh Baiocchi and the Henning brothers. After a few months learning the vagaries of grain on the greens, and playing at high altitude in Johannesburg Dennis was ready for going to the US Tour qualifying school.
What he didn’t know is that just a few months later he would be wholly devastated after a freak accident, in which there was not a mark on his body, but would leave him paralysed. Dennis had been going to see his coach who was out on the golf course and so he got in a buggy and went to find him. Dennis came to a curve on the cart path, and his three-wheel buggy tipped him out and left him laid out on the ground. Dennis could not feel any pain, checked himself out, hands, arms, head and legs. “Not a scratch could I find,” he says, “no blood – no pain”, but then he realised he could not get-up, and could not move his legs. Finally, others came to his aid and got him in the ambulance which took him to hospital. This was his new home for the next four months.
Dennis couldn’t believe what had happened. He was devastated. Not only were his hopes of ‘tour school’ dashed but then he started to think that despite the best efforts of the doctors and their continual assurance that he would gain back the feeling in his legs, perhaps this would not be the case. His fears were confirmed when he spoke directly to the doctor and asked point blank if there was any hope. In the time it took to fall out of the buggy the doctor answered matter of factly that Dennis would never walk again. So how can someone who was already devastated get any lower? Dennis says that “He was as low as any human being could ever be, I was tied first. I simply could not believe it. Why me? Why now?” Answers would come later, not perhaps the answers he wanted to hear, but come they would. Dennis would not accept the prognosis and said to his doctor that one day he would go back and hit golf balls to prove him wrong. Who knows how much Dennis actually believed that he would, perhaps not even Dennis, but the dye had been cast.
Another four months of rehabilitation came and went and then one day a couple of years later he was lying on the sofa, with his head on his father’s lap as they watched golf on TV. Dennis was watching his friends, the players he competed with for so many years playing in a tournament, and he could not help thinking that he should have been there with them. The words, “Why me? Why now?” came back again and he started to cry. Dennis’s father was a strong man. He had been in the military and had a stiff jaw and warm heart. The sight of his son sobbing in front of the TV was too much for Bucky. “Let’s go and hit some balls,” he suggested. For Dennis lying on the sofa, as low as it is possible to be, and paralysed, hearing these words was enough to shock him out of his depressed state. Before he knew Dad had got him in his chair, thrust his Byron Nelson three wood into his hand and was wheeling him across the street.
Covered Bridge Golf course had an indoor practice net, which was used during the winter months was ideal for Dennis to take those first tentative swings. After the first few swings, Dennis could tell that he was going to find it difficult to hit the ball. “My knees are in the way,” he said. Dad gave it some thought, left Dennis and went back home only to return a few minutes later with a TV cushion. This cushion was fairly chunky and had wings on it so that it could be put up against the sofa, “To rest your back and let your arms sit on the wings”. The cushion was put on the seat of the wheelchair making Dennis sit up taller and so giving him more space to swing the club past his legs. The first problem was solved. The next issue was that now that Dennis could swing easier the club travelled a little faster, and he was being pulled from the chair. Dad took another trip across the road back home for a belt that would help support Dennis and keep him secure in the chair. The second problem solved, but then came the daddy of them all. As Dennis would swing harder he would tip the chair off balance, and so it was simply a matter of time before the chair, and its contents ended up spilt across the grass. For someone as determined as Bucky this was simply another obstacle to be overcome. Bucky had frequently said that he was stupid, “Because I don’t even know how to spell can’t.” Far from stupid, he made yet another journey back home and this time he returned with a length of rope, which he tied to the chair and then secured to a tree behind Dennis. So here is Dennis sat on a cushion in his chair, with a belt holding him in and a rope stopping the chair from moving. Now Dennis could get to practice and not surprisingly he did.
PGA – 2008 Distinguished Service Award Winner
Days turned into weeks, and Dennis was ready to continue hitting golf balls again, but the weather in New Jersey was too cold. He got an invitation to visit Crystal Lago Golf Club in Pompano Beach Florida where he met Alex Ternyei. “Alex the Pro” was the kind of guy who knew how to fix and make things, and after a few weeks of continuous practice on the range with Dennis, they decided to go the course. The first hole was some 310 yards, and so with the same routine that Dennis had almost perfected, he sat on a cushion, fastened the strap that held him in place and secured the rope. Out came the trusty Byron Nelson Driver, and swish off went an arrow straight shot down the middle of the fairway. Releasing Dennis from his hitting position took some time, as did wheeling him down the fairway where the same pre-swing routine took place before he smoothed a five wood shot just onto the apron of the green. Finally, on reaching the green, an excellent first putt left a tap-in par. Dennis was both elated that he could once again play golf and at the same time disappointed in the realisation that he would never reach the level he had before. It had taken 45 minutes, lots of effort and support for Dennis to play just one hole. Alex the Pro had an idea. Alex had agreed to meet Dennis as usual at around eight o’clock in the morning, but on this particular morning, things would be different. While Dennis was still waking-up, he could hear, the sound of hammers, saws, and arching metal. When Alex went to meet Dennis, he did so with a prototype seat mounted over the rear wheel of an open-topped golf buggy. This changed the game for Dennis who could now see a different future.
Dennis wanted to say thank you to the clubs and people that had helped him during those early experimental days in which he found his way of playing the game again despite being a wheelchair user. It was here a second accident took place, in this case, it was a happy accident. Dennis would hit a few balls, and the onlookers would be suitably impressed, but it was when he hit a few ‘funny’ shots that were out of the ordinary, that he really grabbed their attention. Dennis immediately realised that a few trick shots would give his spectators something that they would remember. It was the birth of what would become the Dennis Walters Golf Show. Over the months and years that followed Dennis would work at hitting all manner of shots, some which he copied from the established trick shot specialists of the day and others which he would invent for himself.
Dennis talks about learning and practising for his Golf Show AUDIO: 2.Learning and practising his golf show – 1.40 mins
For those who are steeped in golf, the name Dr Gary Wiren will be familiar. Gary who at the time was one of the worlds best golf educators served on the PGA of America training panel for over a decade. Gary became an advocate for Dennis, and it was his intervention in those early years that helped get Dennis a few golf shows. The first of these was with famed teachers Bob Toski and Jim Flick. Although initially Dennis was very shy and really did not have too much in his trick shot armoury, he kept learning, kept developing his repertoire, and improving his presentation. Those few shows turned into more and today with over 3,000 golf shows under his belt, he can rightly claim to be one of the best in the business. Dennis prepares for each and every show as he would have prepared for a tournament in his early years as a player. Never once he says “has he given anything less than his best.” With golf shows at Augusta, St Andrews, and with some of the greatest names in golf, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods with whom he has conducted more than thirty clinics to his credit, Dennis readily identifies with his audience.
Dennis talks about his Golf Show AUDIO: 3. If my life was a movie – 1.33 mins
The golf show has given real purpose to Dennis. When he first had his accident “To even get out of bed would have been a major victory,” he says. Today, as he rolls onto the ranges of the world to conduct his golf show, in his specially customised, red, white and blue golf buggy, he has to pinch himself. He has performed in front of thousands, has met four US Presidents, and has been on first name terms with golfing greats such as Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Palmer, Player, Nicklaus and Woods. Dennis connects with people all over the world and loves every minute of his ‘tour’. “I cannot play the PGA Tour as I had one day hoped, but this is my Tour, I have performed in every state, in Canada, Mexico and the UK,” says Dennis. Dennis has had four canine companions, all rescued from animal shelters who have contributed not only to his Golf Show but also to his life, “I like to think that like me they have had a better life because of golf.”
Dennis talks about his Golf Show partners part 1 AUDIO: 4. Dennis’s Partners 1 – 2.38 mins
Dennis talks about his Golf Show partners part 2 AUDIO: 5. Dennis’s Partners 2 –4.00 mins
Through his Golf Show Dennis is able to spread optimism and inspires people not only with his ability with a club and ball but also with the words he uses to connect with his audience. The maxim, “If there is something you really want to do – no matter how impossible it may seem with enough hard work and perseverance you can do it,” is central to the message Dennis communicates. His ability to touch people has resulted in media articles, a book, numerous speaking engagements and awards. The PGA of America and the United States Golf Association are just two of the pre-eminent organisations in the United States that have presented Dennis with awards reserved for the very best in golf. In 2008 the PGA of America presented Dennis with their highest award which previously had Jack Nicklaus, Byron Nelson, and Gene Sarazen as former winners, and just a few months ago the USGA granted him the 2018 Bob Jones Award in recognition of his spirit, personal character and respect for the game. “Only nine people have received both of these prestigious awards,” says Dennis who is humbled by the recognition.
Dennis talks about receiving recognition AUDIO: 6. Receiving awards – 3.10 mins
“I started doing this for myself, to cope with what I thought at the time was a hopeless situation, but as time has gone by it seems I have been able to help raise awareness of golf for the disabled and bring hope to others – not bad for a T12 Paraplegic,” he whispers. Who would have thought as he lay on the sofa with his father more than forty years ago that the life of Dennis Walters would take the turns it has? He has played the ‘tour’, not the tour he had hoped for, but a ‘tour’ of his own making. He has played the great golf courses, been alongside the great players and spent a life in the game he loves.
Dennis talks about what golf means to him AUDIO: 7. What Golf means to Dennis – 5.50 mins
Throughout his life as a golfer with disability, Dennis has tried to encourage others to participate in a game which has been a constant joy in his life. He has changed people, challenged their beliefs and raised their expectations. One person who will never be the same again was his doctor. Remember the doctor that said he would never walk or play golf again? Well, Dennis did go back to the hospital and took the doctor out to the front where he hit several shots over the road and onto the golf course. The doctor stood opened mouthed, leaned forward and said he would never again make such a prognosis. “Never stop dreaming,” is the advice from Dennis and “If one dream fades – then get another.”
Dennis gives his advice AUDIO: 8. His advice – 10.12 mins