Inspired by Dennis Walters: Three shared stories

By Al TaysMay 23, 2015, 12:00 pm

“Inspiration” is a word frequently applied to Dennis Walters. Here are three people who can attest to that.

Billy Dowell, Winter Park, Fla.

As a former collegiate golfer at Mississippi State, Billy Dowell continued to pursue his dream of playing competitively while enrolled in grad school at Temple. 

His body had other ideas. An attack of ulcerated colitis hospitalized him for 2 ½ months. He developed Crohn’s disease, ultimately lost his large intestine and saw his weight plummet from about 190 to 130. He developed inflammation in his left eye from glaucoma. He ended up having 11 surgeries.

Someone at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America told him about Dennis Walters, and Dowel went to see Walters at a show he was doing in conjunction with a Champions Tour event in the Tampa, Fla., area.

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Dowell introduced himself to Walters, and that began a friendship that still endures. 

Dowell, 39, began playing again and has turned in a low round of 68. “I’ve been really working hard on my game,” he said.

He has also dedicated himself to spreading the word about Walters. “Anytime I knew one of my buddies or somebody going through a tough time I would call Dennis and have him autograph one of his books and mail it to them.

“He always tells me to ‘keep swinging, keep swinging.’ Whenever I get down I think of Dennis and keep persevering. He is very special in my life.”

Dany Baker, Coffeen, Ill.

Dany Baker was a low-single-digit handicapper. But in 1993, at age 37 he lost the use of his legs after being involved in an auto accident. “I was a passenger,” he said. “It happened 10 miles from my house on a six-hour trip.”

Shortly after Baker got out of the hospital, a friend took him to a golf expo in St. Louis to watch Walters. “It was awesome,” Baker said. “It got me pumped up to play again when I found out there was a chance I might be able to play and I might get better.”

“I wanted to get to where I was competitive. I didn’t want to just be a dog-and-pony show.”

Using a Solo Rider cart, the kind that can be taken onto greens and into bunkers, and playing from the forward tees, Baker, 58, has shot a low round of 68. More important, he has used his own experience to inspire – and teach – others, including juniors, veterans, able-bodied and disabled alike. He coached the golf team at his old high school, Hillsboro High, taking it to the state finals five times. And he teaches others how to teach golf to people with disabilities.

Baker and Walters keep in touch, and Baker is one of several people who wrote letters to the World Golf Hall of Fame selection committee endorsing Walters as a worthy candidate for enshrinement.

“It’s been an awesome ride,” Baker said. “I even call him once in a while and thank him. He’s made a tremendous difference in my life.”


Photos: Dennis Walters at home

Dr. Paul Schottland, Florham Park, N.J.

“I knew Dennis before he had his accident,” Schottland said. “We grew up at Hollywood Country Club down the shore, the Jersey shore. My parents and grandparents were members of that country club.”

At 62, Schottland is three years younger than Walters. His grandfather introduced him to golf at an early age, and Schottland took to it, spending countless hours on the range. It was there that he met Walters, who worked at the range.

“He was a kind soul,” Schottland remembered. “Dennis was different. He was soft-spoken, quiet, meticulous in what he was supposed to do. He always struck me as one of the nicest guys in the world. If there was a bird that was hurt, other kids would throw rocks at it, you know? But Dennis would go ‘What are you doing? That’s a bird. He’s living. He’s in pain.’”

Fueled by a desire to become as good a golfer as Walters, Schottland excelled. “By the time I was in high school I was a 2-handicap,” he said. He captained his high school team and qualified for a U.S. Junior Amateur. Meanwhile, Walters headed west after accepting a golf scholarship to North Texas State.

“I didn’t know anything about North Texas State,” Schottland said, “but anything in Texas and anything that had the word ‘scholarship’ meant he had reached a level that was a little awe-inspiring.”

A few years later, Schottland got a call that sent shivers through him. “Did you hear about Dennis?”

“I didn’t want to say yes or no because I didn’t want to hear what the next thing was going to be.”

Then came the crusher. Walters had been paralyzed from the waist down after being in a golf-cart accident.

“It brings tears to my eyes now,” Schottland said.

Schottland described the next few years as “dark years in my experience. [Walters] wasn’t at the club anymore , and when you went to the club it would always be like ‘Have you heard anything about Dennis? How is he doing?’”

When Walters finally did reappear at the club, Schottland, who has a PhD in clinical psychology, found it difficult to deal with his old friend’s new circumstances. “I didn’t want to see him in that condition. He had his legs in braces, he had those metal crutches – that kind of stuff freaks me out. I didn’t have the stomach for it.”

Schottland eventually did come to grips with Walters’ condition, “and the next thing I remember is Dennis trying to play golf again.” Schottland watched in amazement as Walters and his father would pull into the club parking lot in a Ford pickup, hauling a trailer with a golf cart on it. “It was an exceptional effort just to get him onto the cart and to the first tee,” Schottland said.

The first time Schottland played with Walters after the accident, he wondered how Walters was going to putt, since he couldn’t drive his cart onto the greens. “But sure enough he swivels and he grabs those metal crutches and he has the braces on his legs and he's getting himself out onto the green and is holding himself up with the crutches and putting at the same time.”

Some years later, Schottland was reunited with Walters when Walters did a show at Jonathan’s Landing, a private club in Jupiter, Fla., where Schottland’s father lives. “We were both surprised and emotional when I showed up at the show,” Schottland said.

Schottland caught another Walters show last year at the Jersey shore. Schottland brought his kids with him, and Walters acknowledged his old friend to the crowd. “He talked about how friendships are important and that you can establish those through golf,” Schottland said.

When Walters’ sister, Barbara Herman, requested Schottland’s aid in getting Walters voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Schottland was happy to help with a letter of recommendation.

“When I wrote the letter I talked about what kind of human being he was even before the accident and how much he meant to me, his character as a human being meant to me. … Him getting through the accident was just more evidence of what he previously was. He’s just a giving person and he always was - down to earth, compassionate, connected, good values. No BS. That's the way he always was. I wrote it with the point of view that Dennis goes beyond the game of golf.”

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.