GALLOWAY, N.J. – Winners celebrated with medals, smiles and high fives on Sunday, marking the culmination of three days of competition at the 14th annual Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament at the Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club. A field of 176 golfers from 23 programs representing the United States and Canada competed in one of five levels of competition – individual skills (Level I), 9- and 18-hole alternate shot team play (Levels II & III), and 9- and 18-hole individual stroke play (Levels IV & V).
From Individual Skills, where John Burkarth of Herndon, Va., won the gold medal for scoring 209 points in six golf skills events, to returning gold medalist Scott Rohrer of York, S.C., who shot the tournament low 54-hole total of 81-80-81—242 on the par-71 Bay Course for first place in the 18-hole individual competition, the national tournament was overflowing with personal best scores, dogged determination through challenging conditions and teamwork, both on and off the golf course.
2013 Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament
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Behind all Special Olympics athletes are support systems of coaches, family and friends that encourage them and help them find even more joy in the game. But Special Olympics golf is unique in that it promotes team play under the Unified Sports umbrella of Special Olympics, a worldwide sports organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“With the motto of “Play Unified to Live Unified,” Special Olympics Unified Sports is founded on the premise that by competing side-by-side as teammates, people with and without intellectual disabilities help create a world of acceptance, inclusion and respect for all, on and off the course, through the power of sport,” said Amie Dugan, Director of Communications and Marketing for Special Olympics North America.
Acceptance, inclusion and respect were evident in the Unified Sports alternate shot team play at the national tournament this weekend. Teams of siblings, parent-child, teacher-student and friends bonded over competition and special events.
The team of Kellen (athlete), 31, and Devin (partner), 27, Kaasa of Glenville, Minn., shot 47-46-45—138 and led each round to finish in first place and win the gold medal in the 9-hole Unified Sports alternate shot team play competition (Level II).
Devin says playing golf with his brother has brought them closer and he enjoys encouraging Kellen on the golf course. “Kel’s putting turned on. He made a few good ones today, got it going right off the start,” he explained. “It was good to see Kel putting today. It’s been fun to travel, get out and meet new people with him.”
Danny Miller of Ocean City, N.J., played in the 9-hole Unified Sports alternate shot team play (Level II) with his golf teacher and Twisted Dune Golf Club PGA Professional Matt Callaghan. "[The best part about playing in the Invitational multiple times is] memories,” said Miller. “Sometimes I win, sometimes I don't – it doesn't really matter to me. I'm here to have fun. I’ve known Matt for 13 years. He was teaching me the right way to hold the club. He really helped me on my putting this year and last year to get ready for this, and that’s why I’m here today. Matt is the deciding factor on me doing as well as I do.”
Travis Hoover of Charleston, S.C., played in the 9-hole Unified Sports alternate shot team play (Level II) with his golf teacher and Patriots Points Links PGA Professional Brad Parker. Parker calls Special Olympics golf a “passion” of his and many fellow PGA Professionals back home in South Carolina.
“It has been phenomenal – the most rewarding experience,” Parker said. “On the last hole, I put Travis in a bunker, and he has trouble hitting it out of the bunker. He hits it out of the bunker and almost on top of the green. And everyone's cheering for him and we're walking up and he stops walking. I look back, he starts crying. And he comes to me, and he's like, 'My dad's going to be so proud of me.' And then I start bawling and we hugged right there. That was the best moment of the whole thing."
The Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament, presented by KPMG, is being hosted by the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games Organizing Committee, in conjunction with Special Olympics North America. The 2013 Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament is also being supported by tournament sponsors The PGA of America, USGA and PGA Tour.
Scott Rohrer of York, S.C., shot an 81-80-81—242 on the par-71 Bay Course for the gold medal and lowest 54-hole score in the 2013 tournament and first place in the top division of the 18-hole individual stroke play competition (Level V).
Rohrer was also the record-making gold medalist at the 2010 Special Olympics national tournament, where he set the 18-hole and 54-hole individual stroke play record of 71-75-75—221 at the Highlands Golf Course in Lincoln, Neb. At the Special Olympics national tournament level, Rohrer has won three gold medals (2007, 2009, 2011) in Level III 18-hole Unified Sports team play with his father, Jeff, as his partner; three gold medals (2010, 2012, 2013) in Level V 18-hole individual stroke play; and one gold medal in Level IV 9-hole individual stroke play (2005). He did not play at this level in 2006 and was disqualified in 2008.
In the second division of the 18-hole individual stroke play competition (Level V), Jeremiah Doane, of Perry, Ga. (playing for the Tennessee delegation) shot 82-89-88—259 for the first-place finish and gold medal. Ahmad Rahman of Chapel Hill, N.C., shot 88-87-90—265 for the division second place and silver medal.
“Today was great!,” he said. “My driving was good – hitting long is my best part of the game.” When asked what he would like people to know about him, Scott said, “I’m very athletic. I’m not that smart, but when I’m in a competition I’ll give you proof of how good I am.”
“I played great all weekend and this place (Seaview) is excellent,” said Doane. “I feel like I’m on tour here! What I want people to know is that I want to hear ‘good job’ or ‘keep up the good work.’ When people encourage me, I do better.”
Rahman came to New Jersey with his mother, Fari, and his father, Rick, who was his caddie. Ahmad began playing golf at a very young age with his family for fun and to help him with his hand and eye coordination. His mother calls golf “very therapeutic” for Ahmad. “I love golf, it is my favorite sport,” said Ahmad. “I’m awesome. I’m strong. I’m an awesome son, too.”
Matthew Duman of Moorestown, N.J. , won the gold medal in the 9-hole individual stroke play competition (Level IV), scoring 54-50-49—153 for a two-shot victory over Kevin Pritchard of Mississauga, Ont., who shot 57-49-49—155 to receive a silver medal. Jonathon “PJ” Bolger of Port Colborne, Ontario, who lead his division the first two rounds, finished third for the bronze medal with 52-50-55—157.
“Today was exciting,” said Duman, making his first appearance at the national tournament level. “I was disappointed with my sand shots, so I thought I had lost, but I shot well in the end and it feels great to have this medal.”
Pritchard was equally pleased saying, “I’m very happy. I had fun out there today. I kept thinking what I had to do. I kept feeling like, ‘I know I can do this.’ I can’t believe I won this medal. I’m just so happy to be here.”
The team of Eric Schmidt (athlete) and David Dauphin (partner) of Cary, Ill., led all three rounds and won the gold medal with an 87-80-90—257 in the 18-hole Unified Sports alternate shot team play competition (Level III) on the Bay Course. Spencer Jacobs (athlete) and Larry Jacobs (partner) of Rockville, Md., finished in second place and won the silver medal recording a 94-87-98—271.
“On this course, if you’re not in the fairway, you’re in deep trouble because of the rough,” said Schmidt. “We had like eight chances at birdies today and we just couldn’t make many putts. We messed up a hole I wish we had back, but I felt confident at the end and feel good about the tournament.”
The team of Kellen (athlete) and Devin (partner) Kaasa of Glenville, Minn., shot 47-46-45—138 and led each round to finish in first place and win the gold medal in the 9-hole Unified Sports alternate shot team play competition (Level II) on the Pines Course. The team of Andrew Martinez (athlete) and Michael Martinez (partner) of Kansas City, Mo., shot 53-48-46—147 for silver and a second-place finish while Roque Quijada (athlete) and Rocky Quijada Sr. (partner) shot 55-49-50—154 for third place and the bronze medal.
Andrew Martinez played in the team event with his dad, Michael. “I built him a set of golf clubs pretty much when he could walk – he’s been golfing since he was about four years old,” said Michael. “We always played golf, but I was in the military and I traveled a lot so golf was a good way for us to go out and spend some quality time with each other.”
Andrew was pleased with is play and hopeful for a medal finish. “I got out of the trap three times, every single time on the green. And I put them all in [the hole]. We did our best. We don’t know what we’re going to get, but whatever I get I’m going to be taking it to VSI and it’ll go into my portfolio.”
Andrew works at Vocational Services Institute, where employee-of-the-year awards are based on accomplishments in their portfolio.
The individual skills competition (Level I) tests competitors in six different shot-making skills and the highest score wins. John Burkarth of Herndon, Va., in his first national tournament appearance, scored 64-86-59—209 for the gold medal and first place in the top division of the individual skills competition. Andrew Moscoso of Baltimore, Md., finished in second place and won the silver medal, earning 84-56-58—198 total points.
About Special Olympics Golf
The Special Olympics Golf program began in 1988 with the assistance of The PGA of America and USGA. Since then both associations contribute to the growth of the program with grassroots training, rules education, tournament administration and national program financial support. The PGA Tour also provides ongoing financial support to the program. PGA Tour player Padraig Harrington and LPGA Tour player I.K. Kim are global sport ambassadors for Special Olympics, helping to implement golf programs and initiatives designed to spread respect for people with intellectual disabilities.
Currently, 50 U.S. Special Olympics Programs offer golf training and competition, and more than 18,000 athletes participate in golf competitions in Special Olympics in North America. Golf is one of 30 Olympic-style summer and winter sports offered by Special Olympics in more than 170 countries worldwide.
Next year, approximately 200 golfers from throughout the United States will compete at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, being held June 14-21, in the Princeton and Greater Mercer County area of New Jersey. The 2014 Special Olympics USA Games will feature nearly 3,500 athletes, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, competing in 16 Olympic-style sports, with the support of 1,000 coaches; 10,000 volunteers and an estimated 70,000 family, friends and spectators.