Ryder Cup vice captain Des Smyth and European Senior Tour No.1 Paul Wesselingh grabbed a glimpse of the progress being made in disabled golf on the eve of the ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship at Stoke by Nayland.
The duo, plus record senior tour title winner Carl Mason, teed up with a trio of golfers who haven’t let disability dilute their passion for the game, notably one-legged golfer Chris Foster who is determined to qualify as a PGA Professional.
Foster lost his leg through bone cancer 15 years ago but in six years playing golf has seen his handicap come tumbling down to 7.6 leaving him with a realistic opportunity of achieving his dream.
The 24 year old along with short-armed golfer Richard Saunders from Manningtree and Rotherham’s Lewis Eccles, 13, paired up in a greensomes shootout on Stoke by Nayland’s 175-yard par three 18th.
And Foster stole the show with a five iron to 25 feet inside the effort of his partner Wesselingh although the one hole challenge was eventually won by the pairing of Mason and Saunders who claimed the honours with a par.
“It is amazing what they can do with one leg, Chris hit the most wonderful shot and it shows where there is a will there is a way,” said Smyth who will be one of Paul McGinley’s key men when Europe take on the United States at Gleneagles in September.
“I have played with one armed golfers and other types of disability and that’s why golf is such a great game, it is for everybody, young, old, people with disabilities – that’s what I love about golf.”
Saunders, a former Football League linesman and non-league referee, took up golf at 50 and is chairman of the British Amputee Les Autres Sports Association (BALASA).
“It’s great what the PGA and ISPS are doing with disability golf, just because you’ve got something missing, doesn’t mean you can’t still aspire to something. With golf clubs losing memberships we need to encourage people back to playing whatever their ability.”
ISPS Handa and The PGA are in the third year of an academy programme to give PGA pros the expertise to coach golfers with a range of disabilities and more than 200 have already attended the special week long workshops giving nearly 2000 lessons.
Foster, from Bishop’s Stortford, revelled in the experience of partnering defending PGA Seniors champion Wesselingh who later in the week will be hoping to add a third straight win in the European Senior Tour’s oldest event.
“It was brilliant fun and it was good from a disabled point of view because it showed we can hit the ball just as well if you put in the hard work,” said Foster. “Experiences like this just reinforce my ambition to become a PGA professional.”
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