Golf doesn't seem like a sport that would lend itself to blindness, yet this tournament has been going on for decades.
That tournament has, yeah. And the United States Blind Golf Association has been going on, oh, since 1953.
... What confuses people is that there are three different categories in blind golf, and in two of them, people have some vision. In other words, the category I'm in is blind golfers--that means we're totally blind. And then there are two other categories that are based on degree of vision. Basically, people have varying amounts of vision, and they still need a coach. The overall principle of blind golf is that it's a team sport--and that means the team of the coach and player. ... In other words, for me to play golf, I couldn't do it without my sighted coach. The sighted coach helps line up the shot. We play by the exact same rules as all golfers, such as the USGA (United States Golf Association). The only rule that differs for us is that we can ground our club in a sand trap.
What does that mean, exactly?
That means you can set the face of the club on the sand. That's the only rule that's different, and I don't think most sighted people know that. ... But if you're in competition, for sighted people, you cannot do that. For us, we wouldn't have a frame of reference if we couldn't ground our club.
How long have you been playing golf?
I've been with the organization since 2002. I played golf for about 35 years. I grew up as a kid who was legally blind, so I had partial vision until about five, six years ago. I would have been one of the visually impaired golfers if I had played with the organization then. I could kind of see the ball at my feet, but I still needed someone to guide me--I mean, I couldn't play by myself. ... I have two coaches right now. My wife, Sharon, (is one coach)--she's not an avid golfer. The reason I bring that up is that people don't have to be golfers to coach. They can learn some things. You need to know distance; you need to learn how to read the greens a little bit better. The other coach, a friend of mine for 40 years who lives in Green Valley, is Ernie Messinger. ... We spend a fair amount of time practicing. He's put a lot of effort into working with me on the game.
How often do you practice?
We try to practice a couple of times a week. ... One of the hardest things to face blind golfers is finding people who are willing to coach with them. For instance, my wife will coach me in a tournament, and we're going to play some, but to go out and practice--that's pretty tough for her. One of the things that face all of us who are blind is finding other individuals who would be willing to coach. What we've discovered is that once people undertake it, they find it very rewarding, because it is a team concept. In some ways and times, it's harder on the coach than it is on the player, because if we hit a bad shot, it's our fault. But the feeling (with the coach) is: "Well, did I line him up wrong?" I think they take it harder than we do sometimes.
Is it hard for a blind person to judge distances?
... When you're on the green and putting, one of the things that helps is walking from the flag to the ball. That gives you not only distance, but it gives you a feel for the green. When you're off the green, then it's a matter of practice to get a sense. Frankly, even for sighted golfers, it's a feel. People don't realize that sometimes; you really need to feel the shot.
Do you play any other sports?
No, not now. I used to do a little skiing. ... Skiing is kind of similar (to golf)--I think you've got to be a little crazy to ski, though. You have a person skiing behind you, going, "Left! Right! Left! Right!" And you're wearing a big sign saying "blind skier." If you're lying on your ass down the hill when you fall, and you look up and see a big, fat guy like me--a blind skier--coming at you, it gets your attention.