By Robert Bicknell

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October 7, 2007

When "handicap" takes on a new meaningÖ

When I sat down at the computer this evening, it took me seven tries to spell my last name correctly. Subsequently, it would be very safe to say that I have no idea where this weekís column is going or how it will end.

Yes, itís been one of "those" weeks where jumping in front of a bus seems like an attractive option, but luckily, I have always been quite fortunate in that good things just drop into my lap when I least expect it...

Such as a story on the Internet about a golfer in Iowa who was born without arms, yet shot 84 and won a tournament in his handicap division, and there is no pun at all involving the word handicap because he isnít.

Ok, granted, he had custom-made extra-long clubs, but the fact of the matter is that itís one of the most positive demonstrations of "if you really want to accomplish something, nothing can stop you" that I have ever seen.

George Utley saw someone with a similar condition as his playing golf on the US TV show "Thatís Incredible!" some 25 years ago and decided that if the other guy could do it, he could too.

When I saw the video, it was immediately evident that his swing was similar to an ice hockey slap-shot, he tucks the butt of the club under his left armpit and uses torso rotation for power. Definitely a left-side dominant motion, but even people with arms could learn from it.

Utley hit the nail on the head when he admitted that the short-game was the most important thing. If you can chip and putt, you can save a lot of strokes during a round and he does just that.

George Utley is not the only disabled person playing golf. One of the most famous is, of course, Casey Martin who, if you remember, took the PGA Tour to court for permission to use a buggy during a tournament because of a problem with his legs.

A Google search revealed the 2nd Annual Florida Open Golf Tournament For Disabled Golfers, which was held at the Kissimmee Bay Country Club last June and was sponsored by Florida Golf Magazine.

Due to the abundance of technology today, people suffering from a disability have a lot of options such as special clubs, buggies with swivel seats and hand controls instead of foot pedals, etc.

Even more heartening is the US Blind Golferís Associationís 62nd National Championship which was held in Philadelphia last September, and they are not alone. Further searches show that almost every major golfing country has a blind golf association.

Can these people actually "play" golf? You bet. Sheila Drummond recently scored a Hole-in-One on a 145-yard hole and Charles Adams aced the 102-yard 14th hole at Stone Creek Golf Club during the National Championship the year before. The major difference between a sighted golfer and a blind golfer is that the caddie plays a much more important role.

Blind golferís caddies take their jobs to new levels as they have to act as the playerís eyes and help the player get into position before the shot. Jokes about blind golfers playing at night are untrue because the sighted caddie would be unable to do their job.

This is not my first experience with blind golfers as one of my first students back in the late Ď70s was blind. When he walked into the Pro Shop to inquire about lessons, all the other assistant pros dove out the windows. I was the only one crazy enough to take up the challenge and I was glad I did.

I think I learned as much from him as he did from me.

The most important thing when teaching a blind player is making the swing as natural and repeatable as possible. They donít have the advantage that a sighted player has in making last minute corrections with their hands.

What I learned from him is the same thing that my cousin, father and teachers have been trying to pound into my head for years...

Nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough and are willing to put in the effort required to achieve it.

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