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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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.