These guys have learned to overcome major obstacles in their lives. But what scares most of the participants in the ParaLong Drive Golfing Exhibition is losing out on the final day of competition.
“Today,” is how Alan Gentry jokingly described the one day he was so discouraged he wanted to quit the game. Gentry lost his left arm in an oil drilling rig accident 20 years ago. “I had been playing golf all my life,” the geologist said. “I just started up again after I lost my arm.”
Gentry gave up his geologist job after losing his arm. “Now I’m a golfer,” he joked.
You won’t find a lot of ‘poor pitiful me’ attitudes among the fifteen competitors set to tee it up today at the Mesquite Sports and Event Complex beginning at 8:30 a.m. These guys take the game serious yet have a lot of fun. And, they can probably make the average golfer with both legs and both arms look like beginners.
Blind Golf National Champion David Meador became blind 47 years ago. Before that, he played golf and loved it. He easily joked about becoming blind and still playing golf, displaying an attitude about life that everyone can learn from. “My life has been vastly improved,” now that he doesn’t have to watch his bad shots go astray. “Stumbling around is nothing compared to having to watch bad golf shots,” Meador joked.
He’s been involved with the United States Blind Golf Association since 1974 when he attended a function at which Bob Hope was the host. “That opened my eyes to a brand new world,” he said seriously. “Every blind golfer has a coach. The coach drives the golf cart and briefly describes the next shot to me. He lines me up by pointing the shaft of the club towards the target. Then I align my shoulders, hips and feet. He lays the club down by the ball and then I pick it up. I get my balance. The coach moves away and then I swing.”
He says an average drive for him off the tee box is about 200 yards. Not bad for any regular golfer. He regularly scores about 100 on an 18-hole round of golf. That puts him at a 30 handicap. Living in Tennessee he plays about once a month.
Much of the ParaLong Drive Exhibition is the brainchild of Dean Jarvis who lost a leg to bone cancer. He’s been playing golf for about 30 years, only three or four years of that with both legs. He plays about three or four times a month.
At one time he was hoping golf would be added to the worldwide Olympics being held in 2016 in Rio de Jainero, Brazil. “I was excited thinking my peers would be able to participate in the ParaOlympics. But that didn’t happen. I started thinking about putting my own event together to fill the void.”
He played golf with several other people who introduced him to the concept of having a ParaLong Drive Competition based on the concepts of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championships held in Mesquite each year. “The light bulb went off. This was perfect. You combine
challenged athletes with the sport of Long Drive. Mix them together and you create the perfect sport to accommodate most disabilities.”
Jarvis is hoping to draw in more physically-challenged golfers in the future, especially military members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan through the Wounded Warrior program. “There’s an organization called Salute Military Golf that will help bring in more Wounded Warriors to participate in the sport,” Jarvis explained.
“We’re hoping to grow in that area. It’s a great rehabilitation tool for the soldiers.”
Today’s exhibition and competition is the first ParaLong Drive in Mesquite. But Jarvis says there’s more planned in Mesquite for the future in 2014 and beyond. “This has been far beyond anything I could dream. I love being here.”
Some of the other competitors have been playing golf for years even though they lost a leg or arm. Tim Herrmann was born without his left leg. He started playing golf when he was four years old. Two years ago he and his family came to Mesquite to play Wolf Creek Golf Course as part of his 21st birthday celebration. He first learned about Wolf Creek from playing Tiger Woods golf game on his Xbox.
“I’ve never known anything different,” Herrmann said about playing golf with a prosthetic leg. While this is his first ParaLong Drive competition, he’s played in three other national championships.
He took up the game as a young child after watching his father and brothers play. “It was natural for me to follow in their footsteps. And, it doesn’t involve running,” he joked. Hermann has a two handicap on regular golf courses which is spectacular for any golfer. He regularly hits drives off the tee box about 330 or 340 yards, also a special feat for golfers.
John Trenchik, from Toledo, Ohio, is competing in the ‘Arm Division’ of the ParaLong Drive competition. He played left-handed golf before losing his left arm when he was a child. “You just learn how to do it,” Trenchik said about adjusting to a physically challenging game made all the more difficult without an arm or leg.
Tracy Ramin from Montrose, Michigan, was hit by a car driving 80 miles an hour. His injuries were so severe he was given a two percent chance of living. Three months later he was back playing golf. That was 15 years ago when he was 26 years old. He ultimately lost his leg and was fitted with a prosthesis. Prior to his accident he had been playing golf since he was 13 years old.
He said he consistently hits a drive about 270 yards which is further than many golfers with both legs.
Following the opening ceremonies in today’s ParaLong Drive Exhibition and Competition at 8:30, Meador will give a demonstration of blind golf. Between the divisional champion competition and overall match play, Brad Clayton, a PGA of America Master teaching professional, will show his one-arm trick shot skills.
The presenting sponsors of the Mesquite NV ParaLong Drive Exhibition are Stratasys, a 3-D printing technology company, and the Amputee Long Drive Championship (Tenn.). Local sponsors include the Eureka Casino Resort, Mesquite Elks Lodge 2811, Falcon Ridge Golf Course, Wolf Creek Golf Club, Mesquite Regional Business, the City of Mesquite, and Mesquite Athletics & Leisure Services Department.