SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Dennis Walters joined some of golf’s greatest names as the USGA’s Bob Jones Award recipient in a ceremony at Sebonack Golf Club on the eve of the U.S. Open.
Walters, 68, brought a prop to show the audience his connection to the icon whom the award is named after.
“My first club was a Robert T. Jones driver,” Walters said in his speech. “I have kept this wee Bobby club for 60 years, and I brought it with me. Here it is.”
Walters was honored for his devotion to the game even after an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down when he was 24 and a promising young pro in New Jersey. Walters overcame his disability to become a touring trick-shot artist who has entertained and inspired audiences for 41 years. He hits shots from a seat fixed to the side of his custom-made golf cart.
“This is not exactly the tour I originally had in mind, but it’s my own tour,” Walters said. “I have put a lot of blood and sweat into my show, along with quite a few calluses on my hands, but I have never looked at this as work.”
Walters estimates he has put on more than 3,000 performances while traveling more than 3.5 million miles. The Dennis Walters Show has visited every state, the United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico. Along his journey, he became friends with Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson.
“I tell my story and use my own personal experience as an example, to challenge each person in the audience to reach for their own dreams, strive for excellence and do things in their own lives they didn’t think they could do,” Walters said. “I show them that if you have a dream and it doesn’t work out, then get a new dream.”
Jack and Barbara Nicklaus presented the award.
The Bob Jones Award is the USGA’s highest honor. It recognizes an individual who demonstrates the spirit, personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones.
Walters also won the PGA of America’s Distinguished Service Award in 2008, which is that organization’s highest honor. He is among just nine people who have won both the USGA and PGA of America’s highest honors, a formidable list: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Jackie Burke Jr., Patty Berg, Bob Hope, George H.W. Bush and Walters.
Walters thanked a number of people, including USGA officials, his late parents, Bucky and Florence, and his sister, Barbara, who accompanied him Wednesday.
“All of you have believed in me, and I appreciate it more than you will ever know,” he said. “My life has been deeply affected by sorrow, misery, bewilderment and just about every negative emotion one could have, and yet, miraculously, it has also been filled with joy, accomplishments and the knowledge that what I have done has made a difference. Being here tonight shows me that dreams really do come true.”