Thursday, June 16, 2011

Copyright 2011 The Irish Times
All Rights Reserved

The Irish Times

June 7, 2011 Tuesday

SPORT; Golf; Pg. 23

1156 words
GOLF: MALACHY CLERKINmeets one-armed golfers for whom handicap is strictly a matter of shots against parBRENDAN SWAN pulls a six iron from his bag and lines up his approach to the 14th green at Co Meath Golf Club a few miles outside Trim. His ball is a few inches below his feet so the 14-handicapper bends his knees a little as he places the clubhead behind the ball with his right hand. From behind, he would look no different to any golfer faced with the same shot but come around and watch him head-on and the picture changes. He s holding the club in his right hand because he doesn t have a left one.The stump hanging from his left shoulder barely pokes out of the arm in his T-shirt, the result of an industrial accident at a conveyor belt in 1985 that took away his arm above the elbow.He settles over the ball and draws the club back slowly and deliberately, winding it up well beyond horizontal at the top of his swing. He brings it back down smoothly, letting the club to the work without a huge amount of obvious force and hitting perfectly through the ball. It pitches at the front of a slightly elevated green and trundles on to a stop six feet from the hole. Great shot, I say. Thanks, he smiles. Hey, Brendan, calls playing partner Michael O Grady, himself a one-armed golfer as a result of losing his hand below the elbow after being knocked down by a drunk driver. Do you hear me clapping? Welcome to the world of one-armed golf, which differs from the two-armed world only in respect of the jokes being filthier and the sense of what s important being far more grown-up. What did Osama Bin Laden say to his wives as the Americans landed at his compound? cracks O Grady at one point.Dunno, what? Which of you filled in the f**king census form? Both Swan and O Grady will play in next week s World Open One-Armed Championships at Co Meath, the 74th championships since the foundation of the Society of the One-Armed Golfers (SOAG) back in 1932.Swan won the tournament in 2001, just 12 years after taking up the game as a 24-handicapper and it s mainly because of his efforts the tournament will be held at his home club next week.For the 75th tournament next year, the championships will be hosted by St Andrews.Set up in Glasgow in 1932 to accommodate World War One amputees, the SOAG has grown to over 1,000 members, drawn mainly from here and Britain.Societies have been set up in the US and every two years a Ryder Cup-style tournament called the Fightmaster Cup is played between the two continents.Both Swan and O Grady have represented Europe in the past two, gaining revenge in Wales last year for the hammering Europe took in Kentucky in 2008.The membership has changed with the world down the decades from amputees after the two world wars to polio and thalidomide victims in the middle of the 20th century to survivors of machinery and motor accidents in later years. We re very lucky, says O Grady. Aren t we blessed to be doing this instead of lying in a bed having sloppy food fed to us through a tube? Swan was 20 when he lost his left arm. It was very quick, very sudden, he says. I knew my fate really from that moment on. Right from the instant it happened, the healing process started straight away. I had to come to terms with realising how serious it was and what the consequences were going to be. I remember very clearly waking up in the intensive care unit and feeling an itch in my elbow. I went to scratch it without thinking and when I put my hand there, there was no arm. That was how I realised it was gone. The month I spent in the rehabilitation centre in DĂșn Laoghaire opened my eyes to how lucky I was. This was about three weeks after I would have had the accident. I was there with guys who literally cannot do a thing for themselves. There I was with two legs, two eyes, two ears, a fully-functioning brain and one good arm. I think God gave us two of each so that if it came to pass that we had to lose one, we could still function and get by. You have no choice then. I just took it on the chin and got on with it. I knew I was going to have to work that little bit harder to do the things I was used to doing every day. Swan had been a hurler and a footballer beforehand but when he tried to go back playing a bit of ball, he found that other players were wary about tackling him. It didn t bother me at all but I could see selectors on the sideline cringing whenever lads would put the hand in on me. I think from an insurance point of view as well, the club were a bit iffy about me playing. But a life without sport would be no life at all. So he asked a friend who would later become a brother-in-law could he tag along to their Sunday morning golf game just to see what it was like. After six holes, he was all-in. He rang the GUI for advice and they sent him to his nearest pro, who was in Tara GC at the time.The pro tried him out with right-handed and left-handed clubs to see which would suit him better; he plumped for right-handed and away he went.Watching Swan and O Grady play, the right-handed/left-handed conundrum becomes very noticeable. It s actually more of a forehand/backhand deal.They both play with right-handed clubs but O Grady holds it in his left hand and so has to swing across his body, giving his swing a jerky action as he generates power with his hips and legs. Swan s swing is smoother-looking but must place huge pressure on his body because he takes the clubhead so far beyond horizontal. Oh, you name it, I ve sprained it, he says. Neck, shoulders, back, everything. He tried driving with left-handed club for a while and found nearly 30 extra yards off the tee. But it threw his shoulder completely out of kilter and eventually he had to go back.Neither of them tries to leather the maker s name off the ball and they re both enviably straight. Have to be, smiles Swan. If I go into the rough, I can t blast it out like a two-handed player can. Neither of them played before they lost their limb, taking up afterwards as both a goal to aim at and a social outlet. Swan got his handicap down to 10.5 when he became world champion, O Grady got as low as seven and is still in single figures. That they came to the game after their world changed is a small mercy but one they both see the fortune in. I ve spoken to people who played it before they had their accident, says O Grady. They tried to learn it all over again afterwards and I think they have great difficulties making comparisons with how they used to play. You can see them think, Jesus, if only I had two hands here, I could be so much better. I only have to live with what I can do, the same as Brendan. I m not fighting against the memory of what I used to be able to do. No, like the rest of us, their fights are with the frustrations of a ball and a club, a big old field and 18 small holes. Those never change no matter how many hands you can call upon.

June 6, 2011

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Championships at Nairn Dunbar golf club

Let me start by saying thank you Picacho Hills Country Club,I really enjoyed my time working there. A special thanks to Lynn Zemont the president of the laddies assoc. and all the laddies of the assoc. your interest and support of me is greatly appreciated. I had no idea what I was getting into.

I've been playing golf for twenty five years. I started playing golf while working in Hawaii at a golf club named Kiahuna, Kauai Hi. in 1985 that was a long time ago. This trip is one of the few gimp golf tournaments I've ever attempted. the others were many years ago .

The society of one armed golfers are a group of gentlemen and one lady who share a common interest golf and everything that surrounds it! The The society has existed for 73 years . Its members come from all over the world. I discovered this group in 1991 while researching adaptive sports for a documentary I was working on.

I've been to several adapted golf tournaments, this one is like no other I've seen. The tradition and pageantry are impressive on there own. You ad in the people who run this show and all the members and you have a real winner this is not just a tournament , its a brother/sisterhood. I have never seen so many one handed golfers in one place.

Over the years I have never been aloud to play in amputee tourn. because I still have a arm on my left side It does not work ,but it is still there. So a opportunity to play in this tourn. was something I always wanted to do!.

When I traveled 25 years ago the world was allot different. ATM's did not exist, you went to the bank and got traveler's checks. Not anymore. Everyone uses ATM's now Of course don't forget to tell your bank before you leave country. Or else they will think someone else is using your # and block all transactions. as you can guess that happened to me.

I left home with $200 cash on me. Assuming I could get more cash on the other side, this is not going to happen. The day I arrived was Saturday all the banks where closed."nice" good start I still had $100 dollars on me. I had to wait until Monday I used the clubs Internet connection. transfered $400 dollars into my pay pal account, this is a international business account thank god. The bad news my money would not be available for 4 days. let the adventure begin!!!!!

I was met by a American named Mary Marshal whose husband is the president of the association his name is Gary . Mary came with her friend from Ireland Gerry Condie, nice laddies supper kind . Gerry's husband's name is John. John is a man with many skills photographer ,liaison, all around go to guy, neat guy.

After visiting for a few hours I finally got a chance for a practice round. the pro shop matched me up with a fellow from Tasmania his name is Allister Calvert . I would say he is late 20's to mid 30's amputee who hits a ball cross body oh 250-300 yards good player! any how we tee it up from the men's tees. Right from the start I'm thinking well the fairways are like greens real fast try to stay in the fairway. Already I have the wrong strategy.

I have never seen a golf course like this one 133 years old swear to god they don't aerate for that matter bald spots in the middle of the fairway are common and don't be surprised if you never have a clean lie. sand bunkers everywhere and greens so slow half the time I wanted to use a PW to advance the ball. oh yea their rough is mainly fescue about 2 feet tall and nasty.

Now to be fair about the greens I was told that the winter was so cold this year they were fearful that the greens had gotten damaged so they were letting them grow out more than usual.

Let's not forget the gorse, all I can figure is Scottish course designers are sadistic, they line their golf holes by growing these mid-evil hedges made out of a form of cedar that grows so dense that if you hit your ball in it chances are the ball is impaled into its dense exterior or worse yet it will be in the middle of it. This will tempt you to try and retrieve it, do not I mean Do Not! attempt to retrieve that ball. Gorse have thorns that would make a cactus quiver! Imagine a 2 inch needle capable of going through a golf glove, jacket sleeve or a piece of shoe leather. As you can tell I had a few confrontations with the gorse.

Little did I know but sat. afternoon would be one of the few times I would see the sun the whole week, you have to remember I'm in far north Scotland cold and wet is normal. Let us pick up where I left off playing with Allister. I must say I am at this point thinking that this tournament won't be so tough .Narrow and tricky yes long no and the greens are way too slow but I'm feeling pretty good about my game. How wrong I was.

Now Allister and I start off playing pretty good, for never seeing this course before. I feel pretty good about my game. I'm still ignorant to how much different the course plays from front to the back tees I found myself driving the ball through many fairways . Well that won't be a problem for long.

Day Two (sun)

I get up walk to the golf course at 8:00 am. The night before I stored my clubs in the pro shop because they were not ready for us to store our equipment yet. Monday the girls in the office will assign us lockers, but its sun. I go out for my second practice round, this time from the medal tees. approx. 60 yards further on most holes. boy this changed everything. the day before I stayed out of most trouble.

I'm looking at fairways and they look allot more narrow not that you can hit one and have it stay, that's not happening. I'm still trying to play this course like Picacho Hills ,you just can't, some fairways are mogled like a ski run. the easiest shots are out of the sand bunkers. but I'm stubborn and sticking to my game plan big mistake!

On this round I get matched up with a Swedish player named Dave Shutsander from Sweden who is is real nice guy, good attitude. well he is another cross body swinger that hits the hell out of it. on this morning I struggled badly could not make a putt, I kept pulling them hitting them so hard. I could not get the ball in the hole. I got real frustrated . besides all the travel is catching up with me.

All I really wanted to do was hit balls on a driving range, fix my rhythm and get my confidence going again. Guess what? no driving range the only way to work on my game was to chip an putt which was worthless, the practice area was fairly new and had a fast green nothing like the course.

I go right back out with Tony Jones from wales and john Condie from Ireland this will be my 3rd round in a day and a half. I'm getting tired. But qualifying is tomorrow I must get ready. You also have to remember, I've carried my bag because I don't want to spend money on any kind of cart, bad idea lesson learned.

Now I'm tired I'm resting in the clubhouse worried about the money, how bad I played and just plain tired. I walk back to the B&B its 9:00pm looks like 5 in the afternoon. it gets dark at 12 midnight and light at 3 am. As you can guess I slept for 6 hours then I was up ,tired but up. my tee time was at 8:15 am so I go down stairs eat some cereal and walk to the course. It's now 7:00am I go and get my clubs go try to warm up .

Day 3 first qualifying day

On this day I'm playing with David Waterhouse he is from Little Sutton,Cheshire . David has his own posse. three friends who go with him to all of his tournaments, I do believe their names were John, Jerry and Gary all of these guys are real good guys I ended up spending a couple late nights with them. They had a reputation of being wild . I wouldn't say they were that bad. I hung with them just fine, they just want to have fun.

Anyhow back to the golf, I'ts tee time, we all go to # 1 , now remember no driving range no real warm ups. In this group was myself ,David Waterhouse ,George Bradley another real good guy . we are all standing on #1 teebox , take our group picture, trade scoring cards and preparing to hit.

At this point an official gets on the PA announces "NOW ON THE TEE FROM THE UNITED STATES- A MR SCOTT ROBERTSON" everyone cheers. My heart goes straight in to my throat. I stand there heart going a million miles an hour,hit my shot . A pretty good one, I appears to be good . We have a spotter his name was billy an older gentleman I hate to say I worked that old man out. I go looking for my ball can't find it , end up with a tripple bogy. can't make a putt! hole 2 double boggy putting is killing me hole3 par 3 I hit my hybrid on the green and three putt slow so very slow of course every one else did just fine, As I'm playing I find it amazing how these guys, go about their business feeling no pressure.

Oh yea did I mention it is raining, I had more weather to deal with than I've seen in a year back home, Summer in northern Scotland Is challenging . Rain that goes sideways and wind gusts up to 60 mile an hour and temperatures that hang around mid 40s in the morning.

Now to summarize my performance pretty bad , I had a blast but the golf needed some help all my last minute equipment changes came back to haunt me.

Now I have a chance to start meeting everyone. I must say everyone was so nice and friendly. I've been playing golf for twenty six years,I even ran a multiple disability tournament in 1992. Never have I experienced a true feeling of brotherhood as I felt from these fellas. I was so impressed that I decided to write this blog to help raise money for them.

Now where was I oh yea, after playing I went out with the boys kind of knowing this tournament was over for me. So I decided to go out with Waterhouse and the boy's. I kind of knew that I was not going to make qualification for the matchplay. Of course the main topic of the night was my 12 I got on number 16 I think the format was good I just sucked, it happens.

day4 2nd qualifying day

More of the same I'm afraid, The best part of the day was my company I played with a couple of real nice guys David Braddick and James Darragh. By this time I'm out of money, having to wait until Thursday, for money to reach my pay pal account. So I'm a little distracted from my golf game and the company really made the day fun!

Here's a interesting fact I played with Dave Braddick two different days. He never hit the ball more than 195 yards always strait down the middle and from what i understand he played the same ball the entire week. I on the other hand lost a box of titleist, rarely hit the middle of the fairway and shot 26 more strokes than he. I never had so much fun getting my ass kicked.

Day 5-6

Day 5 is when all competitors start playing in a series of stable-ford tournaments so those who didn't make the Knockout rounds have something to play for. This is another example of how this association does a exceptional job at making this tournament all inclusive for all levels of ability. On Tues.they played greensomes, on wed. they played for the Bob Hughes cup. Thursday morning was where I hit the wall, they played in the cattenach cup I was so tired that the thought of hitting balls made me ill.

Almost every Night there is something planned for the membership. Lots of meals together. Some of these people only see each other at this championship, Bobby Park (Indonesia) and Hugo du toit (South Africa) comes to mind. Also there is a strong showing from Sweden,Finland, Tasmania. and USA (myself and Gary Marshal).

On Thursday the day I ran out of juice. I woke up and went to the golf course and sat in the club house overlooking the course . I had an opportunity to visit with the laddies of the association . Some of these laddies have been coming with their husbands in some cases for 35 years.

I sat with Marion park bobby's wife. Marion was wonderful, she was able to give me some history and info on all the membership. Bob is one of those guy's who have been doing this tourn. for 35 years. I played with bob during the president cup on Friday.

I must say This event would not be possible without all the support of these wives. Mary, Gerry,Marion and of course Ann Priscott who ran the gift shop for the event, I'm sorry if I have left anyone out, I'm sure I will.

They conclude the week with a banquette and awards ceremony.

I just want to say a special thank you to Peter Prescott, Malcolm guy and Dave and Monica Braddick and of course Mary Marshal.

Here is why I feel this association has allot to offer people with disabilities. Not only are these people disabled golfers , they all have a story that needs to be heard. the best way to encourage newly injured, I call them fresh kills. Is to show shinning examples of people overcoming lifes challenges. Not one of the people I met is sitting by waiting for someone to solve their problems. They all lead prosperous lives. I know this association could help mainstream newly injured I feel personally that this association could be a vital asset in the rehab of our injured soldiers both in the USA as well as UK.