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Golfers First Profiles

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.

Warren Clark

EDGA golfer Warren Clark talks with Tony Bennett about the challenges he faces as a young golfer with autism and learning disabilities. Remarkably through his charity Warren Clark Golfing Dreams, Warren has introduced more than 5000 people to golf. The charity is a not-for-profit community group that gives people with disabilities a chance to experience playing golf. He is also a certified S.N.A.G (Starting New at Golf) coach and an ambassador for the Arctic One Foundation which supports his cause. Warren is also an ambassador for Golf Foundation and HSBC Golf Roots.

Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with Warren Clark

Warren Clark, a 17-year-old golfer who volunteers at Salisbury and South Wilts Golf Club, and is a coach dedicated to supporting juniors. His passion for golf began at the tender age of 11, and he shares the challenges he faces as a young person with autism and learning disabilities.

His disability hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his talent, and is now one of only six volunteers in the UK dedicated to making golf a more inclusive sport for people with disabilities.

Warren shares what golf has given him: “It’s everything really, I just love it so much and I want to carry on doing it and help as many people as I can.”

Warren’s story is truly inspirational, proving that golf is a sport for everybody.

Q&A with Warren Clark

What did you do most of the time when you were not in school? Did you play any other sports?
I’ve always been a sporty person. When I was eight or nine, I was playing basketball, cricket, swimming or football. At the time, because of my disability, I was playing with my local football team and other special needs people. I was playing cricket and got selected out of the schools in Hampshire to be a part of the county team. It was mainly four or five sports I was playing, and as I could only pick one, golf was more my game really.

How did you get into golf then? Who gave you a club for the first time?
My Stepdad was a golfer before I met him. The first time I was with him, he took me to the local driving range and I quite liked it. My parents got me started with a few lessons and it started from there. I was probably 10 or 11 years old when I started.

Can you remember what you first wanted to do for a living when you left school?
I wanted to be a golfer from the start. I went to college and played golf with people of my age, and they started to say that I was quite talented at the game, and that I should stick to it.

You mentioned earlier that you were down at Salisbury and South Wilts Golf Club today? So tell me what you do there?
I’m volunteering at Salisbury. I do some work in the professionals shop, such as re-gripping, shop work, and coaching. I might be doing custom fittings – It’s a great experience.

What do you like most about volunteering?
I think it’s good because if there is a problem with juniors, ladies or people with disabilities, whatever the problem, I can go and help…There is only six of us (volunteers) in the whole of the UK.

So you mentioned disabilities, what is your disability Warren?
I have autism, reading difficulties, short-term memory, and I’ve got a speech problem, so I might get words muddled.

When did you first become aware of being a little bit different?
When I was about six years old, I did a local test at school and my teachers told my parents that I had special needs. My concentration levels are very bad, so, when I’m out on the golf course, the first thing people say is, “really? You don’t look like you have special needs.” I guess it’s hard for people to tell, but I’ve gotten used to it now.

Did you have to make any adjustments in the way that you interacted with people?
Yes, but at Salisbury and South Wilts Golf Club, everyone is relaxed and friendly. I have special needs and people respect it.

I guess youve had a coach in the past or at the moment?
My coach at the moment is John Warren from Salisbury and South Wilts Golf Club. He’s been a PGA Professional since the early 70s. He’s was taught by David Leadbetter and he coaches quite a traditional style swing.

So, youve got big plans for this year?
I’d like to play tournaments like the Euro Pro Tour, and if I can qualify, that would be my dream. Maybe, if I could do the PGA training course but at the moment, as a person with special needs, I’m currently three or four levels below the [academic] standard of a 17 year old.

I’ve started up my own golf charity called  Warren Clark Golfing Dreams. I’m one of the coaches on level three, my charity is based around getting people into the sport. I work with the Golf Foundation and HSBC Golf Roots where I am one of their ambassadors.

Getting back to golf, when you play, are there any specific moments on the golf course that are more difficult for you than perhaps other people?
I would say concentration.

What have you learnt about yourself through playing golf?
What I’ve learned is how friendly and open-hearted I’ve become. When I was younger, I was a quiet and lonely person, and now I’ve opened up. People from six years ago would now say, where I am is incredible.

Who are your heroes and role models that youve looked up to as youve progressed throughout the years as a golfer?
I liked Tiger Woods. Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus… I’ve got a couple of stories, like when Arnold Palmer at the last event he hosted, I got his autograph – He didn’t give out many autographs, so now it’s probably a good collector’s item and good memories of what I’ve done, and it keeps me going.

Ernie Els who has an autistic son, opened up a charity called the Els for Autism based around his son. I was lucky enough to do their training and I’ve become the first UK autistic ambassador to teach golf using their methods. Being a part of such a big thing makes me proud of all the things I’ve done.

Do you have any goals or objectives youve got in golf that youre prepared to share?
I would like to do the PGA training course if I could, that’s a long term goal, and if I got the chance to play with a few tour players to see how they play the game.

Any adjustments that youd make to golf to make it more user friendly for people with disabilities?

If there could be more golf courses and more buggies for people with special needs who struggle to stand up for four to five hours. I’d probably say making the game more disabled friendly, and if there is a way of getting involved to give everybody a chance.

Can you talk a bit about Warren Clark Golfing Dreams?

We’re on Twitter as @warrengolfdreams, and Facebook as Warren Clark Golfing Dreams. We are a not-for-profit community group so we don’t charge organizers who give people a chance to play golf for free. About 5,000 people in 2017 have had a go.

Tell us about the golf equipment that gives you the most joy?
I’d probably say my putter. I’m one of those people who struggle with their putter, but I’m very happy with my putting at the moment.

If you could magically be with someone who has a similar disability to you, what advice would you offer them if they wanted to start playing golf?
Just be yourself and you can come a long way in golf. Five years ago, not a lot of people knew me, and now, a lot of people with disabilities play golf. Be yourself, that’s who you are and that’s who you’ll only ever be.

What does golf do for you?
It’s everything really. I just love it so much and I want to carry on doing it and help as many people as I can. If you view  Warren Clark Golfing Dreams  or my Facebook and  Twitter, pages, you’ll see how many people I’ve helped. I’m lucky to have my parents to help me and all my PGA pros and helpers who have helped with Warren Clark Golfing Dreams,

To summarise
So Warren Clark is making his dreams come true. A personable young man who devotes many hours every week to volunteer and to share the benefits of golf with others who have until now not had the opportunity to try golf. He is growing through his contribution to society and to the sport. He recognizes that he benefits greatly from his involvement in the sport – and the sport is better for his enthusiasm.

Warren Clark can be contacted through his website at Warren Clark Golfing Dreams

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Pierjean Frison

EDGA golfer Pierjean Frison talks with Tony Bennett about his life before and after his motorcycle accident.

Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with Pierjean Frison

Mention the names Maverick, Goose, and Iceman, and for many, the ‘Top Gun’ theme starts playing in their head. But not everyone takes the step of signing up to the air force to become their very own version of an elite fighter pilot. After a sporting injury had prevented him from pursuing his dream of being a top footballer, Pierjean took such a step and followed his father’s footsteps into the military. His father was in the army, but the speed and acceleration associated with the fighter jets were too much to resist.

Sport was a significant part of Pierjean’s life, football, snowboarding, surfing. He was keen to try all kinds of different sports, and then one rainy and windy night, while returning to the base on his motorcycle, a gust of wind caught him, and he skidded into the security rail of the central reservation. He lay, pinned down by the barriers for more than 20 minutes until the emergency services arrived. By the time they had freed him it was too late to save his right leg.

The next two months saw Pierjean undergo more than a dozen operations. It was at this stage he thought that his life was over. He felt that he could no longer take part in sport. His friends were all part of his sporting activities, so he thought that not only had he lost the opportunity to play sport, but he might also lose his social group. On reflection, he says, “but I was wrong”.

Almost by accident Pierjean got involved in journalism. Not any kind of journalism, in his mind he would become a sports journalist. He uses the sporting term ‘spare’ when saying that he would try to talk and write about sport instead of practicing it.

Two years into his journalism career, and only three months after graduating, the TV station France 3 was looking for a sports anchorman. He took the screen test and got the job. In his own words, “I was quite lucky”, but importantly he found it quite easy to talk to the camera. What a perfect fit. Some eight years after came the call that is irresistible for almost anyone in TV. Pierjean found himself as the news anchor for France 3 – a role he has now had for more than ten years. He enjoys the variety of his work and says that it is “quite cool” when some of the two hundred thousand people who invite him into their home through TV every night, see him on the street and speak to him in a nice way.

Golf was the first sport that he practiced after his accident where he felt he could play with everyone. He was captivated by the sport when starting to play with his girlfriend. He practiced and played more over the next few years, mainly learning on his own, but later taking some advice from the French national trainers.

Although some shots are more difficult, especially those where the ball is not level with the feet, he has learned so many other things about himself from the game. He says that it is a unique game where your personality shines through. Aggressive people are aggressive on the course; cool people are cool and angry people are, well, – angry. Good players, he says, are accepting of both good and bad shots and realize that both come along from time to time.

The progress of Pierjean has been steadily upwards. He won his first individual title at the European level in Italy but humbly says that other players lost the event rather than him winning, but there can be no doubts about the contribution that he made to the victorious French side in the 2017 EGA European Team Championship. The team – including the coach, are all good friends he says and so to come together and win such a prestigious event was a career highlight and very emotional.

Pierjean plays most of his golf with non-disabled players, and he appreciates that he can compete with all standards of players on a level playing field. He says that when he first started, some of the players looked down on him, because of his disability, but after a short time, they changed their attitude as he would beat them more and more frequently.

I could not let the opportunity pass to ask Pierjean, what advice he would offer to someone who found themselves in a similar situation to that he found himself in when coming to realize that his accident was severe. After just a moment, but with no hesitation he replied, “It’s not as tough as you think at that moment to live with your disability. You think that your life is over and it’s just not the reality.” He recognizes that he had to find his way to this realization, but he would like to say, “Be cool guy – you can get over this, and you will come to realize that you can live a normal life. You must feel good with your disability, yes you may be different, but you are normal.”

Pierjean continues his journey in golf and focuses on enjoying the game. He advises “not to be the guy that you want – but instead – be the guy you are”. Wow – what great advice from a man who evidently is at ease with himself.

Piejean with the French team after winning the EUROPEAN TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP FOR GOLFERS WITH DISABILITY

You can reach Pierjean at the following email address:
Pierjean.Frison@francetv.fr

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José Bagnarelli

EDGA golfer José Bagnarelli talks with Tony Bennett about his life before and after his motorcycle accident.

Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with José Bagnarelli

From his early career as a DJ in the late 70’s with a pirate radio station, José has spent most of his working career within the radio and TV industry. In his early days, José worked with NRC, Radio Luna and Radio Montestella which was one of Milan’s most popular radio stations.

For most of the 80’s, Jose worked in the USA hosting and directing weekly music, sports and entertainment reports aired inside a popular music show called “Popcorn”.

José now runs an award-winning audio production company based in Milan called Eccetera which specialises in voice-over recording and sound design for Radio and TV commercials. Clients include advertising Agencies and Production companies in Italy, France, The Netherlands, UK and USA. José also holds workshops and seminars on communication for the radio and effective use of audio.

Q&A with José Bagnarelli

I always thought that you were from Italy, but recently I realised that you had dual nationality. Can you tell me something about how that came about?
My dad was from Naples, my mum is from Paris. I presume they coped with the differences by living in the middle, as I grew up both in Nice and Milan. I then gained double nationality, two languages and French and Italian culture.

Did you spend much time playing sport when at school?
I have been playing sports since I was 6 years old. Gymnastics, then competitive swimming for 5 years. At 14 I entered in the Inter of Milan youth team, until they found out (very quickly) I wasn’t able to play football… I then played basketball, reaching quite a good level (Italian third division) playing as a playmaker and guard.

Can you remember what you first wanted to do for a living when leaving school?
I was a 16-year-old high school student when I started my radio DJ career in Milan’s first pirate radio. After more than 40 years I’m still having fun with audio production and communication.

Tell me about your work in prime-time radio and TV hosting?
Well, that was a lot of fun! As portrayed in the motion picture ‘The boat that rocked’, in the late seventies pirate radios were a revolution all over Europe, compared to the boring national radios. My radio show was airing daily from 14:30 to 19:00, leading me to be quite successful among young listeners. This is the reason why the Italian tv network Canale-5 proposed a few years later that I host and direct weekly music, sports and entertainment reports from the USA, aired inside a popular music show called “Popcorn”. I therefore lived in the following 4 years between New York and Los Angeles interviewing stars like Frank Zappa, Mohammed Ali, Al Jarreau, Sylvester Stallone, Magic Johnson, Barry White and many more.

Then came a motorcycle accident and with the knock-on consequences. Can you talk me through what happened and how it affected your life?
It happened as I now understand happens very often with motorcycles accidents: the guy in the car ahead of me decided to make a U-turn in the very moment I was passing him. A crash was unavoidable as I didn’t even have time to touch the brakes. The impact was tough: I lost some phalanx of the right hand, but most of all the plexus brachial, the main nerve of my right arm was severed in the crash with a complete paralysis as a consequence. Murphy’s law: obviously I was totally right-handed… I still remember when I learned how to take a shower trying to fill my glass from a bottle of water with my left hand! Three microsurgeries later some of the severed nerves were restored, at least enough to grab a beer from the fridge. The glass half-full of what happened is that I learned to be a leftie and that I probably would never have done things I did afterwards, including golf.

You talk about a “Gimme 3 and 1/2!” attitude, please explain what this means to you.
If you’re used to high-five with friends and then you lose 2 or 3 fingers, why should you stop greeting your buddies when you meet them afterwards? Actually, since the very first days after my accident, self-mockery helped me to go through the new course of my life. In a certain sense it is a sort of self-defence, it’s like saying “you don’t need to be embarrassed (or worse) since I’m the one who is making jokes on myself…”.

Had you played any golf before your accident?
No, I even lived next to a golf course for a few years, but at that time of my life it wasn’t really my cup of tea…

Golf then came along to replace some other sports that were now no longer suitable for you…
Well, at first I obviously wanted to play sports I used to practice before my accident. However, I soon realized that swimming without a functioning arm would probably have been like having a stuck helm, spinning in the middle of the pool! I kept playing basketball for a while, with some other long-time friends of mine, but it frustrated my competitive expectations. In fact, my game was quite predictable as I was always dribbling only on the left side of the court and when on rebound I was feeling like I was Qbert, the funny jumping video game character of the eighties.

What was it about golf that made you think that this might just be the game for you?
Let’s say golf bumped into me!

Who or what got you started to play?
During a vacation in southern France with my wife Sabina I stopped in a golf hotel to spend the night. I wanted to drink a beer and I went to the clubhouse nearby. An older English man, probably in his eighties, was sitting at a table next to mine, smiling at me. I wasn’t sure that telling him I didn’t know anything about golf was a good way to break the ice, but it was indeed! The old man bewitched me in just a few minutes revealing the essence of golf: “The only sport where a rookie can beat the world champion by just playing at his best!”. With or without disability, I added to myself… I was excited, and two days later I was taking my first golf lesson.

Have you had any coach to help you reach your potential?
Not when I started. That was ten years ago, and I didn’t know about the existence of disabled golf associations and their coaching programs towards handigolfers. At that time the pro at the driving range was showing me Tiger Woods videos instead, asking to superimpose my swing to his! Quite difficult for an almost one armed player, isn’t it? Luckily enough a few years later I had the chance to enter Handigolf France and meet the French Federation Golf (FFG) coach Frederic Cupillard who works, like other coaches around Europe, on specific training for handigolfers according to their disabilities.

Are there any specific moments on the course that are particularly difficult?
Not really, besides the lack of circulation on my wounded arm which gets very sensitive when it’s cold outside. The solution to this problem is easy anyway, as I just have to wear an arm warmer like anybody else would. Probably a bad angle to reach the green is more annoying to me…

What have your learned about yourself by playing golf?
To cope with my imperfections. Any wrong shot (unfortunately there are still more than a few on each round I play) teaches me something for the next one. As Nelson Mandela said once: “I don’t lose, I either win or learn”.

What does golf mean to you?
Let me answer with another quote. This one is from Arnold Palmer and fits perfectly all golfers, including disabled: “There is no king of golf. Never has been, never will be. Golf is the most democratic game on Earth… It punishes and exalts us all with splendid equal opportunity.”

What heroes or role models have you looked to as you progress through your career as a golfer?
I found them on my first EDGA Open appearances, two or three years ago. Their names are Charles-Henri Quelin, Juan Postigo Arce, Cedric Lescut, Manuel Dos Santos, Adem Whabi, Joakim Bjorkman, George Groves and there are many more. Having the chance to see playing high-level disabled golfers like them has been an incredible source of motivation for my career as a golfer. All of them play superb golf which is above all the result of their hard work and determination regardless of their disability, in most cases much worse than mine.

Of all the things that you learned from playing golf there what would be two or three takeaways that you think others might be able to learn from?
Find a goal and work hard for it, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Leave your comfort zones, but never forget to have fun on everything you do. At the end it’s all a matter of balance and levity.

Are there any goals or objectives that you have in golf that you would be prepared to share?
As my playing HCP is high compared to the “scratch guys” I’m focused on lowering it during the next European Opens, in order to climb the EDGA Nett ranking. I’m also very excited about the venue of the next European Individual disabled championship in June. Hope I’ll be at my best at that time!

Are there any adjustments that would make golf more user friendly for golfers with disability and why?
I would only restore the anchoring putt stroke rule, banned in 2016. This rule doesn’t affect my golf at all, but I think it would be fair for those golfers whose disability requires long putters.

Competition and philosophy: EDGA and its golf highlanders?
There are golfers who go beyond competition and become heroes. I’m not talking about Tiger, Rory, Justin, Lee, Sergio, Erik or Padraig… I’m talking about Jean-Marie, Sebas, Terry, Christophe, Jurgen, Ze Pedro, Christian, Ivgi, Jens, Roberto and many others who play on a Paragolfer. These brave athletes playing golf on an adapted wheelchair are amazing and lead any other golfer to understand what dedication to sport and competition means. Furthermore, they show many others that nothing can stop one’s will.

What “Good first take!” means to you?
This is my contribution to a book published a few years ago where I was asked to write my early epitaph along with other personalities. I thought of this phrase as a synthetic combination of my work (I am now director in my audio production company) and my fulfilled life.

Some general questions:

Is there anything about you that might surprise us? (For example, you play electric guitar in a heavy rock band)?
I have two lovely and funny dogs: Rosina and Pinella.

Which piece of your golf equipment gives you the most joy?
Driver on Mondays and Thursdays, 5 Iron the first weekend in Spring and putter in months with an “R”, like for the oysters.

If you could play a four-ball with anyone, dead or alive who would be your three playing companions and why?
1. My Dad, who never played golf in his life but would have loved it.
2. my beloved wife Sabina, who wanted to play golf with me until we got married.
3. lggy_Pop, who is a fine golfer, but just to hear him singing ‘Louie Louie’ on the course.

If you could magically be with someone who has a similar disability as you, what advice would you want to offer him?
I would pour a “finger” of scotch in a glass and make a toast to him as he’s still alive.

If people would like to reach you how can they find you?
Telepathy, or by email: jose@eccetera.it

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Mike Gays

Mike explains how he had got involved in many sports and found that Golf was right for him. He talks about losing count of the number of surgeries that he has had and that his mantra is simply “that you just have to get through things”.

Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with Mike Gays

Typical of a man who deals with things head on, Mike explains that the decision to have his leg amputated was quite simple really. He took the doctors by surprise by taking the long term view that it would be better for his health if he was to have an amputation. The hardest part was telling his parents who had lived the experience with him for the best part of 25 years.

It is revealing that Mike looks at the improvement that he has been able to make in life as a result of not suffering the same pain that he had been experiencing previously.

Mike tells me that he feels lucky to have what he considers to be the best disability when compared with other and clearly says that he has learned to be resilient. Enjoy the moment also seems to be one of Mikes maxims and he loves competition, which I suspect is true regardless of who he competing with, even with himself.

In this typically forthright conversation Mike reveals how a message from Olympic and Major Champion Justin Rose was just the inspiration that he and other team members needed ahead of representing England Golf in the European Team Championship for Golfers with disability.

I hope that you enjoy my conversation with Mike as much as I did.

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