Deaf Golfer Ready to Compete in Milwaukee

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US Bank Championship in MilwaukeeMILWAUKEE -- ``See you on the Tour someday.''
 
Those six words out of Tiger Woods' mouth stuck with Kevin Hall for six summers, serving as motivation as he won the 2004 Big Ten championship, and again as he set off afterward on the Nationwide Tour, where he's made three starts.
 
Hall never heard Woods' words himself because he's been deaf since a bout of meningitis stole his hearing when he was a toddler. But he read his lips after Woods corrected his backswing at a golf clinic when Hall was 16.
 
And they've proved prophetic.
 
On Thursday, Hall will make his PGA Tour debut after getting a sponsor's exemption to play in the US Bank Championship at Brown Deer Park, the same course where Woods turned pro in 1996.
 
Hall's father, Percy, e-mailed his son on Monday with word that he should cancel his tee time at Beckett Ridge Country Club in Cincinnati because they had bigger things to do in Milwaukee.
 
``Dude, are you totally kidding me?'' Hall replied on his Sidekick. ``My first PGA tournament is THIS WEEK?''
 
``I couldn't believe it,'' Hall signed Wednesday. ``I was walking on air.''
 
So was Percy, who retired from his job as a meat cutter in 1999 to follow his son's fledgling career.
 
The PGA Tour couldn't find any other instances of deaf golfers in their records.
 
The 22-year-old Hall communicates with his caddie and playing partners by reading lips, writing in a notebook or typing sentences into his Sidekick, which combines a phone with e-mail, instant messaging, Web-surfing, a digital camera, a personal organizer and games.
 
Hall said he's not handicapped by his disability, although one time in college he was penalized a stroke for picking up his ball because he didn't understand there had been a rule change for the tournament.
 
And there's actually some advantages on the golf course for being deaf, he said.
 
``I can't hear the distractions. I can't hear the airplanes,'' Hall said. ``But I still struggle with my mental game. Just the same as any other golfer.''
 
Hall said he knows he's ready to tee off with the pros because he has the same confident feeling he did before the Big Ten championship last year, when he coasted to an 11-stroke victory that gave Ohio State the crown.
 
``I believed in myself, that I could win. I knew it could happen,'' Hall said. ``So, from that point on, I believe in myself, I believe in my game, I believe in my skills and I know that I can do it.''
 
Hall lost his hearing at 2 1/2 after a monthlong battle with haemophilus influenzae meningitis. A year later, his parents enrolled him at the St. Rita School for the Deaf and later signed him up for baseball and bowling.
 
But they never gave golf a thought until a family friend asked if he could teach Hall the game.
 
One swing and he was hooked.
 
He participated in the Junior World tournament as a member of Tiger Woods' team for two years and his resume states he's the first African-American golfer to play on scholarship for Ohio State.
 
His parents will be in the gallery along with several friends. And if he makes the cut -- ``No, when I make the cut,'' he corrected -- several more will join him in Milwaukee for the weekend.
 
``If I can finish the tournament feeling good, that's successful,'' he said.
 
And he won't be bothered if fans flock to his threesome to point out the deaf golfer, either.
 
``If people identify me as a deaf golfer, that brings attention to the deaf community. And those people look up to me for motivation for themselves and their lives,'' he said.
 
``If they identify me as a deaf golfer, that's fine. Eventually people will identify me as just Kevin.''
 
A pro golfer, just like Tiger.
 
Related Links:
  • Hall's Scorecard
  • Full Coverage - U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee
     
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