Opinion Column

Kernels of Wisdom: You don’t have to see it to tee it

By Rev. Eric Strachan

All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.

HELEN KELLER

If you’re teeing up this week at the first tee off at the local golf course with visions of breaking your handicap, pause for a moment and listen to some inspiring tales straight from the annals of golfing history.

Claude Pattemore passed away in Hamilton back in 2004 and left behind a legacy that in all probability will never be equalled. Walk through the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and you’ll see him there together with other golfing notables like Moe Norman, George Knudson, Dawn Coe-Jones and Mike Weir. But Claude had one distinguishing feature that set him apart from all other golfers, he was blind.

In 1948 at age 21 he was critically injured while working on a road construction project that almost killed him. A dynamite explosion caused rock particles to blast into his face and as a result Pattemore was blinded for life. Following rehabilitation the young man took up golf and became a significant force on the fairways, greens and bunkers between the years of 1952 and 1972, dominating the Canadian golf scene. He won the Ontario Blind Golfing Championship 14 times and the Canadian Championship 12 times and in 1963 he went south of the border to the United States where he captured the United States Blind Golfers Championship. That same year Pattemore added another coveted trophy to his already laden trophy case, the International Blind Golfer’s Championship.

In the event that you’re wondering how you can play golf if you can’t see, then wonder no more. As they say in the golf circles of the blind, “You don’t have to see it, to tee it”. Every blind golfer has a coach and the coach lines him or her up with the ball and ensures that the feet, shoulders, grip, and the face of the club are in the correct position to hit the ball in the direction of the hole. He then asks the golfer if he’s ready and if the response is “Yes” the coach steps back and “Smack!” the ball sails straight down the fairway.

While Claude Pattemore was making his mark on the United States golf scene in 1963 a young man was coming through his own personal crisis. Thirty-one year old Chuck Mayo, a married man with three children from California, was told following unsuccessful surgery for a detached retina that he would never see again. Mayo would say in the aftermath of that prognosis, “I went into a state of mourning and my whole life passed before me.” Around the same time he happened to be listening to the radio and heard that Claude Pattemore had won the Blind Golfers Tournament in New York State, and something happened to Mayo that day. Pattemore’s story inspired him, and he got up determined to rise up above his circumstances and conquer his physical affliction. He picked up a broom, began to practise a golf swing, and so began a new chapter in the life of Chuck Mayo, the man who drew inspiration from the Canadian golfer from Athens, Ont.

Before Pattemore won the U.S. Championship a man by the name of Charlie Boswell had won it 13 times. Boswell, while fighting in the Second World War, had been blinded while rescuing an American comrade from a burning tank. One of his heroes was the great golfer, Ben Hogan, and he always hoped that maybe someday their paths would cross. Well one day they did when Charlie won the Ben Hogan award in 1958 and for Charlie the pinnacle of golfing would be to play a round with one of golf’s greats. So when the opportunity arose Charlie Boswell said to Ben Hogan, “Can we play a round?” and Hogan responded with a “Yes”. Then Boswell said, “Would you like to play for money Mr. Hogan?”

“I couldn’t play you for money. It just wouldn’t be fair,” responded Hogan.

“Aww, c’mon Mr. Hogan, a thousand dollars a hole!”

“What would people say? I would be taking advantage of you,” replied the sighted golfer.

“Are you chicken Mr. Hogan?” asked Boswell.

“Okay it’s a deal,” said Hogan, “but I’m going to play my best!”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else,” said the confident Boswell.

“You’re on!” said Hogan. “Name the time and place.”

A self-assured Boswell responded, “Ten o’clock…tonight!”

There’s a moral for all of us in the stories of Pattemore, Mayo and Boswell. Maybe life has dealt you a bitter blow, not necessarily blindness, but something equally traumatic and disabling, and maybe you’ve just given up, thrown in the towel, your life has changed dramatically and your incapacity has sidelined you forever. “What’s the use?” you say. Pause with me for a moment. I’ve never walked in your shoes, but I can tell you this, you still have incredible value, and your life still has purpose. Don’t give up!

With God’s help you can rise up like a phoenix from the ashes and make a valid contribution to life that may quite amaze you. You can my friend be an inspiration to others. Take a leaf out of the book of blind golfers. These visually impaired, sightless warriors refuse to buy into the creed of defeat and say, “I can’t!” Their creed? “You might not be able to see it, but you can still tee it!”

(Boswell story from “Blind Ambition” by John Kanary, from “A Cup Of Chicken Soup For The Soul”)