By BOB DENNEY,
PGA of America
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- More than 100 boys and girls from 15 charitable organizations throughout the Louisville-Jefferson County area gathered on a humid Monday afternoon at Shawnee Golf Course on the western edge of this city.
The PGA of America's Community Relations Program, with the support of more than 20 Kentucky PGA Section Professionals, helped guide youths who may have never picked up a golf club and attempted to hit a ball in the air.
It also attracted "seasoned" veterans like Amber Taylor, who is in her fourth year in golf, a 2003 graduate of Doss High School on the southern edge of the city. Taylor, 19, was born with Down Syndrome, and completed two years and 14 interscholastic meets on the prep girls' golf team.
"There are little successes and there are big ones for many of these children," said David Taylor, a construction superintendent, who accompanied his daughter Amber to the clinic. "For Amber and many others like her, they don't know any boundaries. The high school gave her a chance and they saw that she was better than they had expected. She was a crowd favorite everywhere she played."
Amber hit a few chips near the flagstick during the clinic and lagged a few 50-foot putts to within tap-in range.
"She's a pistol," said Michelle "Shelly" Durbin, former Doss High School girls' coach, who guided Amber from 2002-03. "She did make great improvement and was a contributor, not a token to our team.
"In one meet her senior year, one of our girls was sick. We were in a combined meet with the boys' team, and you had to have at least one girl representative. We would have had to forfeit the meet if Amber had not been there that day."
Taylor said that his daughter's energy, commitment -- she had perfect attendance throughout her school career -- continues to be inspiring. As a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, Taylor said there are no ordinary days.
"It's a learning curve every day," he said. "Amber began playing golf at 15, and she followed my son, Nicholas, and myself on the course. Soon she grew into the game. It's a challenge for her, but she accepts every challenge."
"I like the game; I like putting, chipping and driving, and being outdoors," said Amber, who also was a state champion in the Special Olympics bowling competition, played second base on the state champion Special Olympics softball team, and played point guard in basketball.
"My best score? I had a 96 my senior year," said Amber. "I am getting better."
Amber was the recipient of a Doss High School scholarship, presented to a student who excels beyond their normal means or physical capabilities. She is currently in the Work Transition Program, training for a position that may extend to such areas as administrative duties in offices, hospitals or nursing homes.
"She is quite the little athlete," said Taylor. "She hits the ball pretty well for her size. She does have the tendency to tire out after about six holes."
"It's not six holes," Amber quickly corrected. "It's nine holes."
Taylor said that he now enjoys the opportunity to go into the community to advise and counsel parents of children with Down Syndrome.
"We convey to the parents that it isn't the end of the world, and that they will have a chance to see their child do some great things like my child," he said.
Amber was sitting in the bleachers at the PGA Community Relations Clinic and met another youngster whom she knew. Taylor said that the youngster had complained about the heat and didn't want to sit much longer.
"Soon, he spotted Amber and she was carrying a golf club," said Taylor. "They began to talk and not much later the boy comes back with a club and was eager to get out on the range. Amber has been an inspiration to many."
Diana Merzweiler, executive director of Down Syndrome of Louisville Inc., said Amber has been helping manage the office as part of the Work Transition Program.
"Amber is motivated, a very energetic young lady," said Merzweiler. "All children with Down Syndrome have their own timetable. I see Amber in five years becoming more settled in a lot of things in her life. I think she will blossom even more."
As Amber sat in the audience, Louisville Deputy Mayor Bill Summers thanked The PGA of America for its commitment to the city and its youth.
"The PGA made a special effort in this community to include all of the community and this is one of those events," he said.
PGA of America Secretary Brian Whitcomb told the youngsters that they are the future of golf and that one of them might be the next Tiger Woods.
"It is the hope of The PGA of America that some of you will be golf newsmakers in the future because of learning the game here in Louisville," said Whitcomb.
Amber Taylor already is a newsmaker.
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