How Golf Has Helped My Dad Battle MS
Golf provides normalcy to people with disabilities - the reason why the US Adaptive Open is important.
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Hey Golfers —
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I hope you can hang with me.
July 18th, 2010 — the final round of the Waterloo Open. I was in the lead of the amateur division after shooting rounds of 69-67.
I was reluctant to have my dad on the bag. Our personalities tend to clash on the golf course — he’s analytical and passionate. He was never afraid to critique me during a round.
I told him to throw on the caddie bib — but he had to keep his thoughts to himself. He was jacked up to compete. We had a chance to win the biggest tournament of my career.
We had a rough back nine — we lost by a couple of shots. But it wasn’t because of the caddie — he was excellent.
It was a disappointing round — I was dejected we couldn’t get the win. But my dad seemingly didn’t care. The most important thing to him was spending the afternoon competing.
It would be the last time he caddied for me.
I wasn’t aware of this during the round — he told my mom he was having trouble walking.
This was concerning.
Just a month earlier — we went to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. During the third round — Graeme McDowell hit a ball left — right at us. Trying to get out of the way, my dad fell.
Something was off — my dad is a fantastic athlete and has always cared for his body.
After two years of doctor appointments and uncertainty, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Not much changed following his diagnosis in 2012. He even rode his bike across the state of Iowa for RAGBRAI. And we went skiing in Park City in 2015.
But in the last few years, MS has gotten the better of him physically.
He can’t walk without assistance, ride his bike, or ski. But we try our best to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t do.
And we can still play golf.
According to the CDC — 61 million adults in the United States live with some form of disability. There are an estimated 600,000 disabled golfers in the United States — making up about 2.5% of the total golfers in the United States.
The USGA recognized the importance of highlighting golf in the disabled community and created the U.S. Adaptive Open. The inaugural event was played this past July at Pinehurst.
The field was broken down into eight impairment categories with 96 total players. Different impairment categories played different yardages.
The player’s stories are truly inspiring.
Chris Biggins competed with Cerebral Palsy
Chad Pfeifer competed with multiple amputations
Amy Bockerstette competed with Down Syndrome
While the USGA does several hundred million in revenue — it takes time, money, and resources to set up an event — an event that won’t make them money. Credit the USGA for committing money and resources to the U.S. Adaptive Open.
But it isn’t just the USGA. The equipment companies have made an impact on disabled golfers. Ping, TaylorMade, and Callaway have provided properly fitted golf clubs.
Golf Digest did a four-piece video series. I am in awe seeing what these golfers go through to compete — check it out here. It will inspire you.
Tracy Ramin — the executive director of the U.S. Amputee Golf Association, had a great quote.
Our hope, is that we’ll have one person sitting at home who gets off their couch and changes their life. Golf has changed so many lives.
While my dad and I still play golf — it is much different than it was ten years ago. We typically play nine holes — he is lucky to play six of the nine holes. I get him as close to the tee-box and green as possible to limit his walking distance.
We usually have a conversation around hole three. I recommend him sitting a hole out — but he’s too damn competitive — he doesn’t listen to me. And as the round progresses — he physically fades.
We recently played Forest Dunes in Northern Michigan — it was fantastic. He made a 50-foot par putt on hole one, and you would’ve thought he won the U.S. Open.
But here’s the best thing that happened that day. We were paired with a single golfer, which made my dad self-conscious. The single was a great guy.
My dad, in typical fashion — pushed himself too hard. He wanted to play 17 and 18 to finish the round. He fell on the 17th green — a somewhat common occurrence when we play.
Driving up hole 18 — the single golfer drove over to my dad and said, “I respect the hell out of you.” And that is why we play.
Golf gives my dad some normalcy to his everyday battle with MS. It allows him an escape and a chance to compete.
While MS has taken so much from my dad — just like the competitors at the U.S. Adaptive Open — it hasn’t taken golf from him. And it won’t for as long as I can help him out.
So here is my ask. Next time you are on the golf course and see a disabled golfer — give them some encouragement. It will mean more to them than you or I understand.
Even though I was reluctant to have my dad caddie for me at the Waterloo Open — I am so fortunate I did. Life changes fast — and we never know when something will be our last.
Have yourself a great Monday. Talk to you next week!
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