The story behind the photo

Dennis Walters
PGA of America
Dennis Walters, then of Lake Worth, Fla., in a photo from PGA of America archives
By Michael Benzie
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

We came across this compelling image today in the vast PGA of America archives looking for our somewhat regular #throwbackthursday image for our Instagram account. We wanted to know more, and all we had to go on was the following caption:

HOT SHOOTER -- Dennis Walters of Lake Worth, FL, the world's only paraplegic professional golfer, recently conducted "The Dennis Walters Golf Show" at Ferris State College's Katke Golf Course in Big Rapids, MI. Walters' clinic and trick shot exhibition was presented following the second annual PGM/Amputee Pro-Am Golf Tournament hosted by Ferris' Professional Golf management Student Association with members of the Michigan Amputee Association. Here Walters hits his "death-defying swing through fire shot," driving a ball covered by a burning newspaper. An outstanding collegiate golfer at North Texas State University, Walters was crippled from the waist down in a golf cart accident in 1974. He has perfected hitting shots from a swivel seat mounted on the side of a golf cart, providing a touring show which has been viewed by millions either in person or on TV. Walters was awarded the Ben Hogan Award in 1977 from the Golf Writers' of America for his remarkable comeback.

We then contacted Bob Denney at PGA of America to see if he knew anything more about the photo, and turns out, he knows Walters. Here is Bob Denney's report:

"PGA Honorary Member Dennis Walters first learned the game of golf at his hometown Jumping Brook Country Club in Neptune, N.J.

"On July 21, 1974, Walters’ life changed forever after a freak golf cart accident left him a paraplegic. Walters overcame the odds to play golf again, and in 1977 began a trick shot exhibition career that has taken him to all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

"In the photo above, taken in the spring between 1979 and 1981; Walters performed what became his signature “death defying swing through fire” shot. He has since added many new and spectacular shots to his repertoire.

"Walters had never seen the photo, but added, 'Hopefully, my game and my wardrobe have improved. I recognize my old PowerBilt clubs, my Byron Nelson 3-wood and MacGregor woods. My pants are so tight they are sneaking up my legs, with my old braces exposed.' 

"Walters was born in Neptune and now lives in Jupiter – Florida – where he begins the 37th season of the Dennis Walters Golf Show Saturday at the PGA Center for Golf Learning & Performance in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The 2008 PGA Distinguished Service Award Recipient has performed more than 3,000 inspirational programs to audiences of all ages and golf abilities. 'I always encourage others to reach for a dream, and if that doesn’t work out, get a new dream,' says Walters."

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Mike Benzie is managing editor of PGA.com.