PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – The 12th annual Special Olympics national golf tournament concluded Sunday, with Tyler Whitehurst of Palm Harbor, Fla., winning the gold medal in the men’s top division.
Whitehurst shot 84-91-80—255 in the men’s Level 5 competition, which consisted of three rounds of individual stroke play.
In the women’s top division, Grace Ann Braxton, 39, of Fredericksburg, Va., won the gold medal with scores of 83-92-94—269.
The Level 4 (9-hole individual stroke play) winner was Danny Peaslee, 15, of Souris, Manitoba, Canada, with 41-42-46—129.
Scott Rohrer of York, S.C., partnered with his father, Jeff, to win Level 3 (18-hole unified sports team play, with 80-78-79—237 for the gold medal. Scott Rohrer was the record-setting gold medalist at last year’s tournament when he shot the 18-hole and 54-hole record of 71-75-75—221 in Level 5.
In Level 2 (9-hole alternate-shot team play), the team of Andrew Martinez (athlete) and Michael Martinez (partner) of Kansas City, Mo., scored a one-shot win with 48-45-48—141.
In Level 1 (competition in six individual skills, where the highest score wins), Phillip Shepard of Mount Airy, Md., won with 65-84-84—233.
Tyler Whitehurst’s stepmother, Amy Whitehurst, described what playing golf has meant to Tyler, who is autistic.
'When Tyler started playing golf, he only had endurance for about four holes,” Amy Whitehurst said. “When we signed him up for Special Olympics, he had to learn and build up the stamina to play nine holes. And he did that in three months time – that’s how driven and focused he was. He won at Regionals and went on to States (in golf) and he won the silver medal. When he came down off the podium and looked at Jim (his dad), he said ‘I’m so proud of myself, I could cry.’
“What’s so amazing about that is that he’d never had an opportunity to set a goal, and get that sense of self and feeling of pride to reach it. Special Olympics has given that to him and from that moment forward, it changed his life. He went from playing 9 to 18 holes. The manners he’s learned through golf, the etiquette, having a great attitude and being positive … all of it, Special Olympics totally changed his life.”
“It feels awesome,” Tyler Whitehurst said, “because, at my first state championship, I won a silver medal and this is my first national tournament and I won gold – it’s totally different – a whole new level of competition and accomplishment for me. I just want to keep getting better.”
Jeff Rohrer talked about how quickly his son Scott, who is autistic, took to golf.
“He’s always played with me,” Jeff Rohrer said. “He started when he was 7. Soon after we found out he had autism. We got him playing and it’s something he really excelled at because it’s an individual sport. He’s never had a swing lesson; he has the same swing now he’s always had. I just love watching him hit good shots. He’s the better golfer of the two of us; he has the lower handicap. A couple weeks ago we played at Myrtle Beach and he shot a 75 from the back tees at Myrtle Wood. I shot an 86.
“Golf is something he’s really keyed in to; he’s totally focused when he’s out here. You don’t even notice he’s autistic. It’s really helped him to relate to others where we play at home. The other guys have so much respect for him and his game – he’s accepted. Special Olympics and golf have really helped him to excel. I know he’s proud of what he’s able to do. It’s definitely given him an avenue to succeed.”
Full results are available at www.pgamediacenter.com.