Dennis Walters, disability and disrespect

By Al TaysMay 23, 2015, 12:00 pm

Dennis Walters has spent almost 40 years delivering a simple message:

Don't ever let anybody tell you that you can't do something.

A paraplegic since 1974, Walters was told he would never walk again.

Yet he did.

He was told he would never play golf again.

Yet he did.

If he isn't the most positive person I've ever met, he's in the discussion.

There are some people and things, however, that make him positively angry.

Spoiled professional athletes, for instance.

"I have no use for pro sports whatsoever," he says, his eyes turning steely. "Zero. They’re making five, 10 million dollars, they’re unhappy."

Dennis Walters: A life of turning tragedy into triumph

Inspired by Dennis Walters: Three shared stories

His rise in blood pressure is absolutely palpable when the subject turns to attitudes toward the disabled. "I want you to read this," he says, producing a printout of an article by Jerry Tarde, chairman and editor-in-chief of Golf Digest. It's a remembrance of the late Frank Hannigan, the former USGA senior executive director who died March 22, 2014. The column, headlined "Portrait of a Man Who Shook Things Up," won a second-place prize in the Golf Writers Association of America's annual writing contest.

"How could someone write this?" Walters wants to know. "And how could he get an award for it?"

At first glance, I'm puzzled. It's a well written remembrance of a complex, controversial man. Most of what I knew about Hannigan came from watching him on TV when he served as a rules expert for ABC. I interviewed him by phone a couple of times, and read many of his "Letters from Saugerties" columns that ran on In my experience, many of the terms used to describe him over the years - "opinionated," "cantankerous," "biting humor" - were accurate.

There was nothing humorous, however, about the Hannigan quote that Walters pointed out to me: "Screw the disabled."

How could there not have been a stink raised over this, Walters wanted to know. What if a similar sentiment had been expressed about women, or a minority group? And how could the GWAA possibly give this column an award when it contained such a sentiment?

The short answer is, for a lot of reasons. The quote comes 1,000 words into a 1,600-word article. It's not a new quote. It's contained in a section where Tarde references Hannigan's "characteristically acerbic" monthly critiques of Golf Digest: "About an inspiring story on disabled golfers, his response was: 'Screw the disabled.'"

In an e-mail, Tarde provided more context for the passage. "I always believed that a good profile showed the subject at his best and at his worst and guided the reader to a fair conclusion," he wrote. "I knew Hannigan for almost 40 years, including long stretches of not speaking to each other because of disagreement about his ruthless and intemperate opinions, and I wasn't alone. He could also be incredibly intelligent and, dare I say, kind. To ignore either side of Frank was to misrepresent the man."

Let me stop for a moment here and make one thing perfectly clear: This isn't about Frank Hannigan or Jerry Tarde. This is about the experience of being disabled. And it's not a plea for sympathy; it's about the desire to be treated with respect and dignity, something everyone deserves, and why the disabled often feel they aren't.

First, no one likes to admit to a weakness, especially a physical one. Ever hear of "survival of the fittest"?

Second, health is supposed to be a private matter. But it's hard, if not impossible, to keep a disability a secret when you're in a wheelchair, or on crutches or parking in handicapped spots.


Photos: Dennis Walters at home

Last, the disabled are often viewed in a negative light even by the people who love them. Wayne Warms is one of Walters' oldest and closest friends. After Walters' accident, Warms worked with him on developing a swing he could use while sitting down. But Warms at first thought he couldn't do it. "The first time I saw Dennis on crutches with his braces, it made me absolutely sick to my stomach," he said. "Because I knew him when he wasn't like that. And as a result of feeling that way, I kind of got turned off a little bit. I'll never forget the feeling that I had that night, when I was thinking about it. I beat myself up all night over how I could feel that way and letting him down after all the things we had done before the accident."

Is it any wonder that when someone who has the good fortune to be able-bodied tosses out a thoughtless remark like "Screw the disabled," it might just get under the skin of a Dennis Walters?

Which brings me to my final point about respect. Plenty of golf luminaries, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, have supported the idea of Walters being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement category. Here are the eligibility requirements, straight from the WGHOF's website:

"To be considered for selection in the Lifetime Achievement category, an individual must have contributed to the game significantly in areas outside of the competitive arena (i.e. administrator, course architect, innovator, instructor, media, etc.)."

How about someone who has carved out a living for himself in the game despite monumental odds? Someone who created a career in golf doing things no one had ever done before? Someone who remains unique in his job description? Someone who has undoubtedly brought people into the game - both disabled and able-bodied - through the example of his own success?

What more evidence could the selection committee need of a tireless ambassador for golf? And not to be morbid, but Walters isn't getting any younger. Wouldn't it be nice to induct him while he's still around to enjoy it?

It would show him some respect.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”