Making Golf Special

By George WhiteSeptember 1, 2005, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: The Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament (NIT) will take place Sept. 16-19. To learn more about Special Olympics golf and register for the NIT Webcast, click here.
 
It was a bright summer day when he got to this particular par-3 hole last week. Number 7 is a medium-range shot, 155 yards long. He was participating in a nine-hole tournament when it happened. It was Aug. 21 ' a day now burned into his memory for the rest of his life.
 
He wasnt expecting anything unusual at the time. But, oh, how that was all about to change!
 
He selected a 3-wood from his bag. He put the ball up on a tee, stood back for a moment to survey the shot, then got into his stance. He swung and watched the golf ball make a gentle arch to the green.
 
Tom Belka
Tom Belka made his ace while competing in the Special Olympics Minnesota state golf tournament.
He knew it was a good shot as soon as he hit it. The ball rolled and rolled, ever in the direction of the flag. And suddenly, it ended its journey ' stone dead in the bottom of the cup! A hole-in-one!
 
The golfer was 25-year-old Tom Belka. The place was Blaine, Minn., at the National Youth Golf Centers Victory Links Course. And the tournament was the Minnesota state golf event of the Special Olympics. You see, Tom is a Special Olympic athlete.
 
A Special Olympic athlete is a person who attempts to succeed at his particular sport, though he must first overcome the disability of being intellectually challenged. Tom, though he must always battle this obstacle, has been playing golf since he was 8 years old. He has a fulltime job working in a mail room, but he considers himself an athlete first and foremost. His participation in softball and bowling attest to that, but he considers golf his No. 1 sport. He spends hour after hour working on his swing at his hometown of Maple Grove.
 
Toms coach, Mike McStott, was ecstatic about Toms special shot, noting the long hours of practice that Tom puts in. And Toms father, Jim Belka, was equally overwhelmed by his sons hole-in-one. 'I've been trying to do it for 52 years and I haven't come close,' Jim said.
 
The 2-year-old Victory Links course is part of the National Sport Center, which hosts - among other events - the USA Cup soccer tournament. Toms ace was one of only three holes-in-one in the history of the course.
 
The Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament (NIT) will be held Sept. 16-19 at Ames, Iowa. More than 200 golfers, from 29 U.S. programs, will compete at the five levels of play.
 
I personally attended the Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament three years ago. It was eye-opening to see the youths so spirited, if ever friendly. When Im having a bad day on the golf course, I just think of these young athletes and what they must go through when they leave the course. Nothing seems quite so bad afterwards.
 
The PGA of America and United States Golf Association return for the sixth consecutive year as presenting sponsors and are joined by the PGA Tour in this sponsorship designation. The LPGA and the Golf Course Superintendents Assn. of America are supporting sponsors.

The PGA first introduced golf to the Special Olympics in 1988, and now some 10,000 athletes compete in the sport in 17 countries. In 1991, Special Olympics golf went international with nearly 4,000 Special Olympics athletes participating in daily PGA golf clinics at their Summer World Games in Minneapolis.
 
Special Olympics first exhibition golf tournament came at the 1995 Special Olympics Summer World Games. The Summer World Games hosted the first official Special Olympics World Golf Tournament in 1999 and the annual Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament began in 2000.
 
The stated goal of Special Olympics is to changes lives by promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion between people with and without intellectual disabilities. And golf organizations have jumped in wholeheartedly to lend their support ' the PGA, the USGA, the PGA Tour and the LPGA.
 
Someone, somewhere is bound to be thankful. Golf may have some warts here and there, but it has been a giant when it comes to these specially challenged people.

Email your thoughts to George White
 
Related Links:
  • Learn More about Special Olympics Golf
  • Sign up for the Webcast
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    Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

    By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

    The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

    They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

    Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

    Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

    Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

    ''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

    The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

    In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

    Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

    Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

    By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

    Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

    Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

    Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

    Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

    It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

    The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

    Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

    By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

    ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

    Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

    ''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

    They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

    ''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

    Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

    ''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

    Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

    Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

    Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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    Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

    Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

    Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

    Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

    Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

    The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.