Tour ace KJ Choi was among many to be impressed by a pioneering PGA coaching programme for disabled golfers which has been adopted on the other side of the world.
The South Korean star took part in a special clinic at the recent World Cup in Melbourne to highlight the ISPS Handa PGA Academy Programme now being rolled out in Australia.
And Midland PGA Advanced Professional, Craig Thomas, who helped develop the programme in the UK, guided Choi through a coaching session as he hit balls blind-folded.
“The World Cup was a great opportunity to create media interest around a brilliant PGA programme and highlight what it was going to offer and also engage with local disabled golfers who also played in the World Cup pro-am,” said Thomas who has his own golf academy in Wolverhampton and is also the Cheshire county development officer.
“A TV crew filmed the clinic and it was sent out to 200 different countries and reached an audience of 800 million people. KJ (Choi) was really receptive to what we wanted to do. He was really keen to step into the shoes of disabled golfers and to share what his experience was.
“And it was really interesting to talk to him because he started to realise how we take the brain for granted and that when you take away one or more of the senses how difficult hitting a golf ball becomes.
“He was able to fully appreciate how difficult it was and more importantly recognized the need for better education of PGA pros and also to raise awareness among disabled golfers that coaching is accessible.”
More than 170 British PGA pros have already gone through the programme which equips coaches with the skills to teach golfers with a range of handicaps – from visually impairments to loss of limbs.
Coaches who have gone through the week long workshop have gone on to give thousands of lessons to disabled golfers including injured soldiers through the PGA Buddy initiative across local communities.
The PGA of Australia, assisted by Aussie pro Christian Hamilton, will begin using the programme to equip its members with the expertise to take golf to disabled golfers Down Under.
Thomas added: “The purpose of the visit was to officially hand over to the PGA of Australia the ISPS Handa PGA Academy Programme that was developed by the GB&I PGA.
“The PGA of Australia was keen to take ours rather than reinvent what was already a good programme to better educate their pros as they don’t currently have anything.
“Christian Hamilton is going to assist in delivering the programme as he already does disabled coaching with a Limbs for Life programme and has been identified him as the right person. From a personal point of view, travelling to Australia also gave me a good opportunity to meet and see how other pros are working.”
Thomas revealed that Choi wasn’t the only one to appreciate the efforts going into disabled coaching under the leadership of Dr Haruhisa Handa whose long term ambition is to get golf into the Paralympics.
“Adam Scott was also appreciative of what we were doing,” added Thomas. “He realized how fortunate he was in not having the kind of challenges many of the disabled golfers faced. I also shared a taxi back to the hotel with the American Kevin Streelman and he was really complimentary on the programme so overall it was a really positive visit and I hope Australia can build on the success we have already had in the UK.”
Dr Kyle Phillpots, The PGA’s Director of Education and Career Development, said: “When we developed this programme it was always our intention to share it with other PGA’s around the world, that way more disabled people can embrace this great game.”
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