At the Seven Springs Golf & Country Club last Friday, patients from Westcoast Brace & Limb paired up with seasoned golfers to learn how to adjust their swing for new disabilities.
The Golf Clinic for Orthotic Patients & Amputees was the fourth to be held at the New Port Richey golf club. Golfers from all over the country arrived to play in the 57th Southern Regional Amputee Golf Championship.
“The most beneficial part is for individuals to see golfers with similar challenges play well,” said Kellie Valentine, who had to learn how to play golf with one arm. “They see that drive and that if we can do it, they can do it.
Valentine has played in amputee golf tournaments all over the world. On the morning of April 19, she was paired up with individuals at the clinic with above-the-elbow arm amputations to help them find a technique to swing.
“I don’t use a prosthetic device,” Valentine said. “I just swing the same way a two-armed person would swing but with one arm.”
Mike Hudson, the tournament director, said that about 30 of these clinics are offered in various states every year.
“We always hear from amputees who thought about playing golf but don’t know how to get started,” Hudson said.
Since World War II, the National Amputee Golf Association has helped countless numbers of former and aspiring athletes with golf clinics, tournaments and a support network of individuals working through similar challenges.
Balance is the biggest issue for new amputees, Hudson said, so experienced golfers were matched with 20 or so patients to help them.
Hudson, who lives in the Seven Springs, has played and directed golf tournaments since 1976 when a Clearwater newspaper article told the story of a local amputee golfer.
“A lot of times you see [recent amputees] who have a negative attitude but then they see people enjoying life and participating in sports,” Hudson said. “Here they can be around people they can get positive vibes from.”
Jim McElhiney, a Paralympic world champion, made his third trip to the local golf club. In 1992, he retired from other amputee sports to play golf.
“You think you’re bulletproof when you’re young,” McElhiney said, referring back to his youth in the Navy. Then at 19, his leg was tangled up in an anchor chain and he lost it.
“It’s working with what you’ve got left, is what it amounts to,” McElhiney said. “Most people who lose limbs are older and they don’t know what they can do so we encourage them.”
Fifty golfers, of various ages and types of amputation, gathered in the golf club’s dining room after the clinic to enjoy a late breakfast and some air conditioning.
Kenny Green, the vice president of the Southern Amputee Golf Association, gestured around the room. The amputees range from birth defects like his leg, missing below the knee, to disease or trauma, he said.
“It’s all about getting past an amputation’s different nuances to perfect your swing,” Green said. “We match someone who is a below-the-knee amputee to a golfer who has the same amputation then they share their knowledge of how they adjusted their swing to hit the ball.”
For information on the Southern Amputee Golf Association, visit http://sagagolf.org.