Deaf Golfer Continues to Chase his Dream

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Kevin Hall might have a good laugh if he were aware of all that goes on around him on the golf course.
 
He was on the first tee at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am when the starter reminded the gallery that no cameras were allowed and 'please make sure your cell phones are turned off.' In New Orleans, as Hall stood over a 6-foot birdie putt on the first green, a volunteer instinctively raised a sign that said, 'Quiet, Please.' Then, realizing who was about to putt, he shrugged and slowly lowered it.
 
Hall's world has been quiet as long as he can remember.
 
Meningitis that nearly took his life at age 2 robbed him of hearing. But he refused to surrender a normal life filled with big dreams. He was not sure where they would take him until a family friend put a golf club in his hands, setting in motion Hall's hopes of becoming a PGA Tour player like no other.
 
'People will always see me as deaf and black,' Hall said through a sign language interpreter. 'I don't think people will see me as just another golfer. It just won't happen. That's my story. I guess it will always be my story. But the positive thing about it is that I can use my story to inspire other people, to help them see that they can do what they want, and to help them pursue their dreams.
 
'If I can help one person, that would make me happy.'
 
Hall's dream remains a work in progress, although patience and perseverance are two traits he knows well.
 
Determined to succeed, he became one of the top junior golfers in Cincinnati. He was good enough to become the first black to receive a golf scholarship at Ohio State, great enough to win the Big 10 championship two years ago by 11 shots.
 
Hall was medalist at the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying last year, but didn't make it further. He now plays on mini-tours, and he tries Monday to qualify on the Nationwide Tour. He also asks PGA Tour events for sponsor's exemptions, receiving five the last two years, although he has yet to make the cut.
 
But he is no charity case.
 
'When I write my letters to tournaments, I tell them that I'm deaf and I tell them that I'm black,' Hall said. 'And then I tell them I don't want them to look at me as different. I want them to look at me as a person who got through life, fighting, working hard. And I want them to look at me as a person who wants a chance - a chance to play with the best players in the world.'
 
He gets another chance this coming week at the Memorial, the most special exemption of them all.
 
Jack Nicklaus, another Ohio native and former Big 10 champion at Ohio State, is the tournament host. Hall played Muirfield Village about a dozen times while in college. This will be the first time he has played the PGA Tour in his home state.
 
'I was shocked,' he said of getting the exemption. 'All I know is I have to bring my A-plus-plus game.'
 
Nicklaus now lives in south Florida and travels the world with his golf course design business. He was not aware of Hall's story until the producers of the ARETE Awards for courage in sports asked him to introduce a feature on Hall.
 
Nicklaus, like everyone else who first meets the 23-year-old Hall, was impressed and inspired.
 
'I was amazed to learn what he had overcome in his life and golf career, the way he faces challenges with commitment and determination,' Nicklaus said. 'He's a fighter. He fought death as an infant, and he has had to fight the challenges that come with being deaf. For those who seem to think he can't make it in this sport, he seems to use that to fuel his motivation.'
 
No doubt, there are obstacles.
 
Donald Barnes, the family friend who took Hall to the golf course at age 8, wondered if being deaf would make it difficult for Hall to keep his balance, key to a sound golf swing.
 
'He got perfect with it,' Barnes said. 'I've never seen a person pick up anything as fast as he did.'
 
Most players can tell how they're hitting the ball by the way it sounds coming off the club. Hall doesn't have that luxury. He depends entirely on feel.
 
'Hearing is huge,' Paul Azinger said. 'There is no mistaking the sound of a bad shot. I bet that if you stuck earplugs in any player's ear, it would neutralize his game. I think this guy is amazing.'
 
Hall doesn't have casual conversations with his caddie as they stroll down the fairway. They must be face-to-face for Hall to read lips. And if that doesn't work, Hall keeps a pad of paper in his bag to write notes. His caddie at Pebble Beach, Dennis Mitchell, tapped him on the shoulder on the fourth tee, then used hand motions to remind Hall to keep his hand cupped on impact.
 
These are moments when spectators realize Hall is deaf.
 
'I don't act like a deaf person,' Hall said. 'I talk, I laugh, I can read lips. But when they see my signing, then I see their eyes going, 'Oh, what's he doing? What's that?' And then their faces look like idiots, and my dad has to explain I'm deaf. Their reaction is priceless.'
 
Matt Hansen played two rounds with Hall in New Orleans and called it one of the best moments of his rookie season.
 
'I had to make sure there was eye contact, and I was better at that today,' he said after the second round. 'It's amazing he can compete on this level. I would have thought being deaf would be a big hindrance. But this is a special player.'
 
Percy Hall wasn't sure how to proceed when doctors told him his son was deaf. He learned sign language and devised games to teach Kevin how to communicate. And he was determined to treat Kevin as a normal kid, telling him that being deaf would not keep him from doing whatever he pursued.
 
'My wife and I promised to do whatever it took to give him a chance to be successful,' Percy Hall said.
 
Kevin joined a bowling league and carried a 205 average. He played baseball. But he found his passion in golf, and he found inspiration from a junior clinic in 1998 when Tiger Woods came to Cincinnati.
 
Woods made his way down the long line of juniors, stopping to give a word or two of advice and encouragement. When he reached Hall, the teenager was hitting the ball over the range and into the backyards of houses. Woods spoke to Hall's mother, Jackie, who signed the instructions - for more length, extend his arms to get a wider arc in his swing.
 
The next tee shot went 30 yards farther, and Hall's smile lit up the practice range.
 
Woods also smiled and left Hall words to consider: 'See you on tour someday.'
 
Hall believes he will get there eventually. The sponsor's exemptions - Milwaukee and the Texas Open last year, Pebble Beach, New Orleans and the Memorial so far this year - have shown him how far he has come and what he needs to improve, mostly his short game.
 
Even while missing the cut, he has never felt he doesn't belong. He doesn't believe he is dreaming too big.
 
'I see life differently than other people,' Hall said. 'I almost died when I was very young. I was sick. When I got through that, I lost my hearing. And I said, 'I'm not going to give up.' I got a second chance at life. God gave me a second chance. So I don't see myself being out of my league. I don't have time to say, 'Oh, my God, I don't belong here.' What I do have time for is to enjoy life one day at a time.
 
'If I think that I'll be good, then I probably will,' he said. 'I just have to keep on working hard and never give up.'
 
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