LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. – I.K. Kim, a three-time LPGA Tour winner and Special Olympics Global Ambassador for golf, joined more than 200 Special Olympics golfers from throughout the United States and Canada on Thursday for the 13th Annual Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament at The Wigwam Resort. Kim played a practice round with Special Olympics athletes, presented a skills clinic and participated in the tournament’s Opening Ceremonies.
"Special Olympics opened my eyes to the possibilities of these athletes,” Kim said during a break from the day’s activities. “They're very good and really focused. I learn from Special Olympics athletes … you have to have your own 'best' and Special Olympics athletes show everyone how we should all live."
Kim played a morning practice round with Jeff Steron and Roger Braun of Arizona and Grace Anne Braxton of Virginia. In between shots and putts, the group discussed their shared love of golf. Roger Braun of Glendale, Ariz., began participating in Special Olympics golf more than 20 years ago in the individual skills competition. He advanced to 9-hole individual stroke play after just one year and began competing in the 18-hole individual stroke competition six years ago, which is the level he will be competing in this weekend.
"All I want to do is golf -- I love it!," said Braun, who earned a gold medal in Iowa in 2006 and a bronze in Florida in 2011.
Jeff Steron of Tempe, Ariz., picked up tips from Kim during the round and, together, the pair scored four pars. Steron also overcomes the physical challenges of cerebral palsy, playing with the functional use of only one arm and impressing Kim with his long drives, including one that reached nearly 200 yards.
"It felt really good when I hit a couple solid drives," Steron proudly said.
Following the round, Kim met with the Special Olympics golf resource team, a group of PGA Professionals and Special Olympics representatives who provide guidance to Special Olympics on its global golf development and growth, an area of particular interested to Kim.
She then hosted a one-hour clinic for more than 50 Special Olympics athletes, answering questions, sharing training and technique tips and providing one-on-one instruction.
She also joined nearly 500 Special Olympics athletes, coaches, volunteers, plus PGA of America and United States Golf Association (USGA) officials for Opening Ceremonies on Thursday evening. Similar to the Olympics, 203 Special Olympics golfers and their Unified partners (for team play) marched in by delegation; a presentation of colors was staged; an Arizona Special Olympics athlete sang the national anthem; golfers recited the Special Olympics oath; and the Special Olympics cauldron was lit and will be extinguished at the close of the tournament on Sunday, Sept. 9.
About the 2012 Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament
The 13th Annual Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament is being held Sept. 6-9, 2012, at The Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, Ariz.
Special Olympics golf is part of the worldwide Special Olympics sports movement for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. More than 200 golfers representing 18 U.S. states and Canada will compete in one of five levels of competition at the tournament. Opening Ceremonies began the tournament on Thursday, with three competitive golf rounds played Friday through Sunday. Awards ceremonies for the golf competition will take place immediately following the final round on Sunday. KPMG, The PGA of America, USGA and PGA Tour are presenting sponsors of the 2012 tournament.
Special Olympics Golf allows athletes to grow in the game as they gain experience. Level I competition consists of an individual skills contest, where six golf skills are tested. Level II is Unified Sports alternate shot team play, where a Special Olympics athlete is paired with a golfer without intellectual disability for 9-hole competition. Level III is Unified Sports team play, pairing Special Olympics athletes and golfers without intellectual disabilities for an 18-hole competition. Levels IV and V are individual stroke play 9-hole and 18-hole competitions, respectively.
Tournament rounds begin daily at 7:00 a.m., Friday through Sunday, with award ceremonies held immediately following the final round, approximately 12:00 p.m. through 3:00 p.m. on Sunday.
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. Currently, more than 19,000 Special Olympics athletes participate in golf training and competition within 49 U.S. Special Olympics programs. Worldwide, more than 50 countries offer Special Olympics golf programs.