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Strong Silent Type Kevin Hall of NCAA-bound Ohio State leads by his actions, not his words

May 19, 2003
May 19, 2003

Table of Contents
May 19, 2003

Sports Ilustrated Bonus Section
Inside The NBA

Strong Silent Type Kevin Hall of NCAA-bound Ohio State leads by his actions, not his words

Golf is a quiet game. The smallest sound can distract even the
best player. But Kevin Hall, a three-year starter at Ohio State,
is undisturbed by the conversations going on around him as he
plays his approach to the 6th hole of the Hummingbird course at
Wild Wing Plantation, in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Deaf since age two,
the 20-year-old Hall hits a crisp six-iron shot to within six
feet on the 416-yard hole, then turns to his father, Percy, and
says with a clasp of his hands, How did that sound? Percy answers
by slapping his right hand into the palm of his left, meaning,
Flush.

This is an article from the May 19, 2003 issue

"Kevin knew he had hit that shot well," says Percy, who is
walking the course with his son during a spring-break practice
round, "but he wanted to confirm that it had the right sound."

For a hearing golfer, the thud of an eight-iron hit fat, the
clang of a topped long iron, the thump of a good sand shot and
the rattle of a ball falling into the cup are routine parts of
the game. If you stand near the practice tee at a PGA Tour event,
where a collection of perfectly struck irons can sound like a
21-gun salute, you can even hear the difference between a pro and
an amateur. One clubmaker, Callaway, went so far as to take out a
patent on the sound made by its clubs, believing that golfers
have come to equate sound with distance.

Hall can't hear the big bang that he makes with his titanium
driver, although he certainly is more adept at feeling his shots
than other players. "I know I've hit a good drive when I feel the
ball being compressed by the clubhead," he says in a written
exchange, his preferred method for conducting interviews. "The
ball feels like a sponge sucking the energy off the face. When
I've hit a toed, heeled or thin shot, it feels as if I've hit a
brick and twisted the club. It sends a vibration up the shaft
that is not pleasant. When I hit a shot crisply I feel absolutely
nothing."

This week Hall and his Ohio State teammates will play in the NCAA
Central Regional in Manhattan, Kans. Earlier this month, at the
Big Ten championships at the Indiana University Golf Course,
Hall, who is a junior co-captain, led the Buckeyes to a
third-place finish by tying for ninth individually in the 55-man
field, shooting a three-over-par 287. For the season he has a
stroke average of 73.3, second only to junior co-captain Zach
Doran's 71.9 among the Buckeyes. In March, at the Cleveland Golf
Classic, Hall had a hole in one during a season-low round of 68
and wound up coming in 13th overall, one of his four top 20
finishes this season.

At 5'7" and 155 pounds, Hall is not big, but he has had a large
impact as Ohio State's first African-American golfer. He is also
the first deaf player at any major U.S. college. (Sung Man Lee of
South Korea is the first deaf golfer on the Nationwide tour. The
PGA Tour has never had a hearing-impaired player.)

Ohio State coach Jim Brown, himself a former Buckeyes golfer,
recruited Hall from St. Rita School for the Deaf in Cincinnati,
where Hall had been a world-beater, winning nearly every area
junior tournament he entered. As a senior he was named to the
all-state team and qualified for the 2000 U.S. Junior.

In Columbus, Hall played his way into the starting lineup as a
freshman. That year he had his best finish to date, a second to
Luke Donald of Northwestern at the Kepler Intercollegiate. Hall,
a communications major, also made the Big Ten's all-academic
team.

"Kevin is a model student-athlete," says Brown. "He's a
reflection of his parents." Percy, a retired meat cutter, and his
wife, Jackie, a business analyst for Ryder trucks, immersed their
son in sports soon after Kevin lost his hearing as the result of
a case of bacterial meningitis. "We've always taught Kevin that
the sky is the limit," says Percy, who is an accomplished bowler.
(In high school Kevin carried a 205 bowling average.) At the
prodding of a family friend Kevin tried golf at age eight. "I had
to learn as much as I could about the game so I could communicate
it to Kevin," says Percy. (It wasn't until years later that he
located instructional videos that were captioned.) Kevin still
remembers his first shot, struck early in the morning on a
late-autumn day at the driving range at Avon Field Golf Course in
Cincinnati. "I took a weird hack and hit a little draw that
landed at the 100-yard mark," he says.

Blessed with excellent hand-eye coordination, Kevin was a scratch
player by his junior year in high school. His first significant
victory came in 1997, at the PGA Junior Series in Fort Wayne,
Ind. He won the 13-to-14-year-old division in a playoff after
shooting a four-over 148 for two rounds.

When selecting a college, most gifted golfers look for warm
weather and the best facilities. Kevin compared disability
services. Ohio State's are world class, providing Kevin with
interpreters who attend classes with him.

To communicate with others, Hall most of the time uses either
Exact Signed English (ESL), which is the signing of every word
spoken, or American Sign Language (ASL), which is a shorthand
version of ESL. "If a person is telling a story, I like to see it
through ASL because it's good to imagine the story that way,"
Hall says. "When a person is talking about facts or philosophical
things, I like to see it through ESL because it provides more
information."

With teammates and coaches, Hall uses an improvised form of ESL
that, for these golf junkies, is more succinct than any of the
formal sign languages. Call it Kevinspeak, an informal assortment
of gestures, finger spelling, lipreading and some speaking that
illustrates specific aspects of the game. "An interpreter came in
to try to teach us how to sign," says Doran, "but she was going
too fast."

Hall can also read lips, which is how he often communicates with
his father, who frequently travels to the team's tournaments. "My
dad and I have a language that we both understand when talking
about golf," says Kevin. "I use it when others are teeing off so
I won't make noises, or when I'm riding with him in a cart."

Even during competitions, Hall is not at all standoffish. "With
other players, sometimes I type messages into my pager or write
them on paper," he says. With the other Buckeyes he's just one of
the guys. "My teammates have been around me long enough to know
what my voice sounds like," he says.

Says Doran, "Every now and then, when he's shooting four or five
under, we test him. We scream his name during his swing."

During a practice round at Wild Wing Plantation, where the
Buckeyes spent five days during spring break, Doran and Hall take
on juniors Scott Anderson and Ryan Hurley in a friendly
four-ball. Hall is constantly trading signs with his coach, his
father and his teammates. When he hits a good shot, Brown shakes
both hands, which means applause. After Hall sinks a birdie putt,
he and Brown mime a slam dunk. When Hall makes a bad swing, Brown
mimics the faulty position.

On the front nine Percy recognizes the clinking sound of a mishit
tee shot. Almost simultaneously he and Kevin confirm the faulty
hit by pointing to the toe of Kevin's driver. On the next tee,
after Kevin catches one on the sweet spot, he grins at his dad
and rubs the "sore" club face.

By the time the players reach the par-3 16th, the wind has kicked
up. Hall tees his ball but then, confused by the swirls, steps
away. Doran taps him on the shoulder and motions with his hands:
The wind is blowing from left to right. Hall readdresses the ball
and plants his shot 20 feet from the flag.

A veteran photographer has been taking pictures of Hall all
along, but it takes him 14 holes to realize that it is O.K. to
break the golden rule of golf photography: Never click the
shutter until the player has made contact with the ball. "Life
would be a lot better if it were this easy on the PGA Tour," he
says with a grin to his assistant.

The Tour is a long way from Hall's thoughts. In fact, in keeping
with his father's favorite acronym--KISS (Keep It Simple,
Stupid)--he's not looking past this week's Central Regional, in
which the top 10 teams will advance to the May 27-30 NCAA
championships at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
After that, Hall will play in some of the larger amateur events
and attempt to qualify for the U.S. Amateur. He will also
continue to work with his swing coach, Ron Masters, and sports
psychologist Jennifer Carter. Pretty routine stuff for a
top-flight amateur.

Hall may be a person of color, and he may have a disability, but
he sees himself as a golfer first. Asked if he thinks that being
deaf actually gives him an advantage over players who must deal
with unexpected noises, Hall says, "The mind formulates all the
distractions golfers face. I'm deaf, yes, but I get distracted
all the same, like everyone else. The biggest thing is that I
don't enjoy the best part of golf to its fullest: communicating
with fellow competitors about different things in life."

There's one other issue that concerns him. "I can't hear golfers
yell, 'Fore!'" he says, "and one day that might get me knocked
stiff."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON KEVINSPEAK Hall uses these special signs to communicate with teammates.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON [See caption above] I hit that shot softly.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON [See caption above] That one was hit hard.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON [See caption above] Oops! I hit the ball fat.TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON QUICK STUDY Brown (left) never has to make the same point twice with Hall, who co-captains the Buckeyes with Doran.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON SPIRIT Regionals are next for (from left) Doran, David Vallina, Peter Riddell, Hall, Anderson, Hurley and Darren Lundgren.TWO COLOR PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE HALL FAMILY (2) ACHIEVER Kevin was a decorated bowler at age eight, and when he was 16, he and Jackie spent time with Tiger Woods.
"Every now and then, when Kevin's four or five under, we test
him," says Doran. "We scream his name during his
swing."
"The mind formulates all the distractions golfers face," says
Hall. "I'm deaf, yes, but I get distracted all the same."