The Gift of Inspiration

By Brian HewittOctober 11, 2008, 4:00 pm
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. ' Whats the worst part?
The question hangs and then twists in the air for a long moment as Jeff Branneky carefully considers exactly how he wants to word his response.
The worst part probably, he says, is when he gets to the first tee and the people he has been paired with see him for the first time.
Theyre nice about it, he says. But you can see the look in their eyes that says, Oh boy, its going to be a long day. Theres always that first look.
And that first look, he says, is the worst part of having just one arm.
Then I drive it down the first fairway, he says, and everything is OK.
Branneky can carry a golf ball 270 yards with his driver.
He is 22-years-old and currently enrolled in the Professional Golfer Careers College at the Orange County National Golf Center just up the road from Disney World, which is where Branneky wants to work when he graduates.
This is not, however, a fairy tale.
For starters, despite the fact that Branneky can pound it off the tee, he plays to a 16-handicap. His story is not about the scores he shoots.
Or as he puts, I dont consider myself handicapped. I believe I am here for a reason.
As David Wood, an official at Brannekys school puts it, Jeff understands life.
Branneky and his partner, Gus Harris, are part of just one of the close to four dozen 12-man teams that will vie for the team championship as the Golf Channel Amateur Tour crowns its winners in several divisions over the next week at courses throughout the Orlando area.
Branneky was born three-and-a-half months premature with no left arm or hand. He weighed 29 ounces at birth and the amount of oxygen he needed during that hospitalization caused damage to his left eye in which he is now legally blind.
He is here, he says, to inspire others.
Always dream, Branneky says. Always do the best you can. Anythings possible. Im proof of that. Id love to help out as many people as I can.
He started playing golf when he was 10. He tried a prosthetic device. That didnt work. He experimented hitting the ball from the left side ' with a backhanded motion ' but couldnt produce much distance.
The power he now generates from the right side, he says when asked, probably comes from the strength in his legs ' he works out five days a week ' and an unusually full shoulder turn and left hip drive.
The first time I saw him hit a golf ball he just stepped up and whacked it, Wood says. And I was thinking what an idiot I was for being surprised.
Branneky sensed Woods skepticism even before Wood felt it. Theres that worst part again.
So you ask him what the best part is of having one arm. And he pauses again.
Truth is he cant think of a best part. Branneky is an optimist and unfailingly positive. But he is not a Pollyanna.
Of course he would like to have been born with more physical sporting equipment. But he did get two loving, supporting parents he counts as his best friends.
They encouraged and developed in him what has turned out to be a deep faith and a devout religiosity. He repeats he firmly believes he was born the way he was born for a reason.
God has always been there for me, he says. I cant do it alone.
Branneky loves animals so much he worked in the St. Louis Zoo for two years in his home state of Missouri where his parents still reside and run a hardware store in the town of Bridgeton.
You ask him when he first knew he was different and he says, I pretty much always knew. But I didnt get teased by the other kids.
When the subject rolls around to Tiger Woods, Branneky brightens and gushes just like every other golf fan who worships at the altar of the worlds best player.
He knows an inspiration when he sees one and he knows hard work when he sees it.
My father told me you get out of something what you put into it, Branneky says.
Which, it turns out, is the best part of being a hard worker.
We admit students to our school based on attitude, not golf ability, says David Wood. You just couldnt pick a better guy than Jeff.
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