On sept. 28, I officially passed the PGA of America's Playing Ability Test (PAT), which is the first step toward becoming a teaching pro. I did it by shooting a 72-75 at Tumwater Golf Course in Olympia, Wash. Thousands of people have passed the test, which requires you to shoot 151 or better while walking 36 holes in a single day. It took me 19 tries to pass. I'm the first person with cerebral palsy to do so.
I was born with the affliction, but during my 25 years I've worked hard to keep it from stopping me. Although I need forearm crutches to walk, my parents introduced me to golf at Riverside Golf Club in Portland when I was seven years old. I played junior golf and made the team at Grant High. And I remain proud of making the basketball team at Alameda elementary school. (Once in a while they even let me play.) I tried out for the golf team at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., but failed to make it.
I struggled but continued to play and work on my game every day. There were times when I questioned myself, times when I was exhausted, and times when I struggled with isolation, depression and loneliness. But I simply loved golf, and that kept me going.
In 2002, after graduating with a degree in golf management, I decided to become a PGA-certified golf instructor so I could help others with disabilities discover and excel at the game. That's when I came face-to-face with the Playing Ability Test. I could score well enough-my personal best for 18 holes is 72-but trying to walk 36 holes in a day wore me out. At one point the PGA of America offered to let me spread the test over two days, but I refused.
After my 11th attempt I met Mike Adams, a former amateur champion from the Portland area who years earlier had been temporarily rendered a quadriplegic after a near-fatal car accident. Now fully recovered, Mike understood me as few had before. He became my caddie and my mentor, taking me under his wing and teaching me a lot about golf-and about life. Over two years and eight more attempts at the test, we became great friends and ultimately achieved our goal.
Although life dealt me a tough break, I consider myself a very lucky man in that I am the son of loving and compassionate parents, without whom I never would have succeeded. They stood by me as I swung and missed, fell down, then picked myself up and swung again.
A lot of people swing and miss in life, and I'm not done swinging. I plan to promote golf to other people with disabilities because I believe in their potential. I also still hope to play on a tour and-oh, yeah-someday I'm going to learn how to walk.
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Nov. 14 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
by JAMES P. HERRE
If he keeps playing long ball, Tiger Woods will miss more than two cuts in 2006.
Gemmet had a day to shoot 151 or better for 36 to become certified.¬†
Chris Eliopoulus, Writer /
Michael Penick, Artist /
Chris Sotomayor, Color