Some years ago, while waiting on the 1st tee of a Minneapolis
golf course, my threesome was joined by a man with one arm, which
he used as the front arm of his practice swing, sweeping the club
forward in a graceful parabola, in the manner of Steffi Graf
hitting a backhand, or a matador throwing open his cape. When the
amputee spanked his first drive 225 yards down the fairway, my
brother turned to me and whispered, with a deep sense of
foreboding, "We're about to get our asses kicked by a guy with
one arm." And so we did.
I thought of that man last week, at the National Amputee Golf
Championship, at which I met the one-armed, one-legged,
four-fingered Bob MacDermott, who was shocked by high-tension
wires on his Edmonton farm 16 years ago. "The worst part wasn't
taking 15,000 volts," he said. "On the way to the hospital the
ambulance blew two tires and threw me out the back. That's when I
thought, Game over. I'm playing that big golf course in the sky."
Yet there he was last week--drinking a Harp, not playing one--at
Hazeltine National Golf Club near Minneapolis. A
seven-handicapper before his accident, MacDermott, who plays with
a prosthetic arm and leg, is now a one. This summer, he shot a
six-under 65 to win the championship at his club, Belvedere. He
even qualified for the Alberta Open. The 47-year-old really has
become a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. "Hands," he
told me, after a windswept round of 74, "get in the way of a golf
"I used to spray the ball all over the place," said 49-year-old
Dan Caputo, a railroad switchman, of the years before he lost his
right arm between two boxcars in 1984. "Now I'm right down the
middle." Indeed, in the first round last week, Caputo, playing
with a prosthesis, aced the par-3 17th at Hazeltine and
high-tailed it off the course immediately after putting out on
18. "We were worried we'd have to buy a round for everyone," said
his wife, Kim. "Have you seen the price of drinks at this place?"
All manner of athletic marvels were gathered at Hazeltine. "What
this thing does to a football is awesome," said spectator Dave
Reinhart, thumping his prosthetic leg on a folding chair. "I get
hang time in the three digits."
To Reinhart, I was a TAB, a Temporarily Able-Bodied person. To
Patrice Cooper, the left-arm amputee and seven-time Hazeltine
club champion (six with one arm) who lured the tournament to her
home club, I was a "normie," ironic shorthand for normal person.
And single-leg amputees, who generally shoot the lowest scores at
this tournament? "We call them normies-with-a-limp," said Cooper.
"They don't get any sympathy on the golf course."
The 55th National Amputee Golf Championship was contested among
165 men and women from every limp of life. "This tournament is
usually played in a warm-weather spot," said Cooper, 50, who lost
her arm to cancer 16 years ago. "And at the hotel, around the
pool, all you see are these prosthetic legs, leaning against deck
Though the golfers came from 32 states and nine nations, they
shared a sense of humor that was--there is no other word for
it--disarming. The one-legged Reinhart said he literally has one
foot in the grave. But he's also missing two fingers, and so,
when I asked him his age, he paused for a very long time before
saying 53. "I'm not good at counting," he explained. "I can only
count to 13. [Smile.] Fourteen on a good day."
Moe Clayton of Richmond lost his golf scholarship at Vanderbilt
("bad grades") and then both legs in Vietnam (in 1970) and now
buys a new pair of prosthetic gams every year. "And every year,"
said his buddy George Willoughby, a leg amputee from North
Carolina, "Moe gets an inch taller. He was 5'8" when the military
took him. Now he's 6'4"."
When the PGA Championship was played at Hazeltine last year, Tour
players were tended to by on-site equipment-repair specialists.
So too, last week, were the amputees, who availed themselves of a
prosthesis-repair tent at the turn. "People are coming in for
lube jobs," said Cara Koski, tournament publicist, escorting me
into the tent. "They'll ask, 'Can you duct tape this for me?'"
The men's and women's winners of the three-day, 54-hole
tournament were two normies-with-a-limp. Twenty-one-year-old
Kenny Green of Clarksville, Tenn. (73-76-74), had his left foot
amputated below the ankle at birth and said of the field, "I am
just in shock at the skills of some of these players."
Twenty-two-year-old Kim Moore of Fort Wayne, Ind. (76-89-77), who
lost her right foot at birth, said, "Doctors thought I wouldn't
walk, until I started walking on my stump, pushing a Fisher-Price
shopping cart." She was two at the time. Last month the aspiring
pro missed the cut at Q school by five strokes.
"All golfers are after the same thing," said the unsinkable
MacDermott, who finished third (74-75-77) among the men. And we
all find that Eden equally--eternally--elusive. "People ask me if
I throw my clubs," said Patrice Cooper, after removing her
golf-specific prosthetic arm, which locks onto her club shaft. "I
always tell them no. By the time I get it out of the clamp, I've
women from every limp of life.