Last week I hit a hole in one. It was a cold miserable day, temperatures were in the 20′s when I unloaded my clubs. But I had committed to play in a tournament. I was stuck. Then the sun came out, I shed a layer of clothes and something magical happened. I hit a hole in one on a very tough par three. It looked and felt surreal, like a dream, like a miracle.
That made me think about the many stories linking golf to boosting the quality of life for people with disabilities. There is a study in Arizona where Alzheimer’s patients who once played golf are brought to the golf course. If they are non-verbal, something magical happens; they start to talk about their clubs and game. If they had lost their memories, they begin adding up their scores. If they were agitated, they grow calm on the links.
Researchers speculate that because golf is such a complex game, once you learn it, the process becomes deeply imbedded in the fibers of the brain, a little like learning a Bach fugue. You do it over and over again, so that there is a pattern that the brain never seems to forget.
I was a sickly child, frail and never very athletic. So the fact that I learned to play golf mid-life feels like a miraculous gift to me. When I read the story, “I’m A Walking Golfing Miracle,” in the April 2013 Golf Digest, I deeply understood. Zakki Blatt is 19-years-old, and doctors had predicted he would die by age 9, because of a severe heart defect.
Zakki has survived dozens of surgeries, but has struggled with breathing. Walking and swinging a club seemed like a fantasy. At age 15, he thought he was going to die, but wanted to visit a golf course as a final wish. Zakki participated in the First Tee of Greater Philadelphia. He arrived pushed by his mom in a stroller, trailed by his oxygen tank. Despite his assistive technology, a coach taught him how to putt.
“It was about the happiest day of my life,” Zakki wrote.
It is this kind of story that gives us hope. Our son, Phillip, who has cerebral palsy, loves golf. He deeply enjoys riding around the course with his family, and would give anything to play. If Zakki can play, it may be possible for Phillip,too.
Zakki is now getting ready to go to college, and said the doctors can’t believe his progress. “When you’re relaxed, the body can heal faster, “ he said. “It’s the golf, stupid.”