Special Olympics Golf means more than medals to 2011 competitors

special olympics golf
Ray Graham/The PGA of America
Malcom Harris-Gowdie (left) and James Cromwell waved to the crowd as they received their medals in Individual Skills Division M2 at the awards ceremony on Sunday.
Sherry Major

Series: PGA Feature

Published: Sunday, September 25, 2011 | 7:42 p.m.

Medal ceremonies brought an exciting three rounds of competition to a close Sunday at PGA Golf Club, but Special Olympics golfers shared a common story of how golf has meant more than awards to their lives. A field of 177 golfers from 21 U.S. Special Olympics programs, plus programs from Bermuda and Canada, competed in five levels of competition in the 12th annual national tournament. 

Tyler Whitehurst, 20, of Palm Harbor, Fla., shot the Level 5 - 18-Hole Individual Stroke Play low score of 84-91-80—255 for the gold medal in the men’s top division. Tyler, who is autistic, was accompanied by his stepmother, Amy Whitehurst.


To return to our complete coverage of the 2011 Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament, click here.

"When Tyler started playing golf, he only had endurance for about four holes,” said Amy.  “When we signed him up for Special Olympics, he had to learn and build up the stamina to play nine holes. And he did that in three months time – that’s how driven and focused he was. He won at Regionals and went on to States (in golf) and he won the silver medal. When he came down off the podium and looked at Jim (his dad), he said, ‘I’m so proud of myself, I could cry.’

“What’s so amazing about that is that he’d never had an opportunity to set a goal, and get that sense of self and feeling of pride to reach it,” she added. “Special Olympics has given that to him and from that moment forward, it changed his life. He went from playing nine to 18 holes. The manners he’s learned through golf, the etiquette, having a great attitude and being positive -- all of it, Special Olympics totally change his life.”

Tyler said, “It feels awesome because, at my first state championship, I won a silver medal and this is my first national tournament and I won gold. It’s totally different – a whole new level of competition and accomplishment for me. I just want to keep getting better.”

Grace Ann Braxton, 39, of Fredericksburg, Va., held onto her Level 5 - 18-Hole Individual Stroke Play lead in the top women’s division with an 83-92-94—269 for the gold medal. 

In Level 4 - 9-Hole Individual Stroke Play, Danny Peaslee, 15, from Souris, Manitoba, Canada, led all three rounds with 41-42-46—129 to win the gold medal for the top Level 4 division.  Nicholas Urban, 23, from White Bear Lake, Minn., shot 44-46-42—132 for the Level 4 silver medal.

In Level 3 - 18-Hole Unified Sports Team Play, Scott Rohrer (athlete) and his father, Jeff (partner), led all three rounds with an 80-78-79—237 for the gold medal.  Scott was the record-making gold medalist at last year’s Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament when he shot the 18-hole and 54-hole record of 71-75-75—221 in Level 5 - 18-hole Individual Stroke Play event. 

Scott Rohrer also is autistic and had fun playing in the Unified Team Play with his dad.

“He’s always played with me,” said his dad, Jeff.  “He started when he was seven.  Soon after we found out he had autism. We got him playing and it’s something he really excelled at because it’s an individual sport.

“He’s never had a swing lesson; he has the same swing now he’s always had. I just love watching him hit good shots,” he added. “He’s the better golfer of the two of us, he has the lower handicap. A couple weeks ago we played at Myrtle Beach and he shot a 75 from the back tees at Myrtlewood; I shot an 86. 
“Golf is something he’s really keyed in to; he’s totally focused when he’s out here, you don’t even notice he’s autistic. It’s really helped him to relate to others where we play at home. The other guys have so much respect for him and his game – he’s accepted. Special Olympics and golf have really helped him to excel. I know he’s proud of what he’s able to do. It’s definitely given him an avenue to succeed.”

In Level 2 - 9-Hole Alternate Shot Team Play, the team of Andrew Martinez (athlete) and Michael Martinez (partner) of Kansas City, Mo., held a slim lead with a 48-45-48—141 and a one-shot lead over the team of Joseph Park (athlete) and Bob Boyle (partner) of Auburn, Ala., who shot 49-46-47—142.

The Level 1 - Individual Skills Competition tests competitors in six different shot-making skills and the highest score wins. Phillip Shepard of Mount Airy, Md., held his Round 2 lead, scoring 84 points Sunday for a 65-84-84—233 and the gold medal.

The Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament offers five levels of competition on the Ryder and Wanamaker Courses of PGA Golf Club, Sept. 23-25, 2011. Level 1 is an individual skills contest, where six golf skills are tested. Level 2 is alternate shot team play, where a Special Olympics athlete is paired with a non-Special Olympics partner of more advanced skill for a 9-hole competition. Level 3 is Unified Sports team play, pairing Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners of similar ability for an 18-hole competition. Levels 4 and 5 are individual stroke-play 9-hole and 18-hole competitions, respectively.

The PGA of America, USGA and PGA Tour are presenting sponsors of the Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament.  KPMG is also a Special Olympics sponsor of the event.  PGA Golf Club is a six-time host of the national tournament.  With the support of golf’s allied organizations, Special Olympics golf has grown to include some 18,000 athletes participating throughout North America and more than 28,000 athletes participating in golf in 25 international programs. 

Final Top Scores:

Level 5 - 18-Hole Individual Stroke Play
84-91-80—255 – Tyler Whitehurst of Palm Harbor, Fla. – Gold Medalist/Men’s Division #1
83-92-94—269 – Grace Anne Braxton of Fredericksburg, Va. – Gold Medalist/Women’s Division #1

Level 4 - 9-Hole Individual Stroke Play
41-42-46—129 – Danny Peaslee of Souris, Manitoba, Canada - Gold Medalist/Men’s Division #1
44-46-42—132 – Nicholas Urban of White Bear Lake, Minn, - Silver Medalist/Men’s Division #1
51-46-47—144 – Cody Miller of Hillsborough, N.C.- Bronze Medalist/Men’s Division #1

Level 3 - 18-Hole Unified Sports Team Play
80-78-79—237 – Rohrer/Rohrer of York, S.C. - Gold Medalist/Men’s Division #1
94-94-109—297 – Abney/Abney of Franklin, Tenn. - Gold Medalist/Men’s Division #2

Level 2 - 9-Hole Alternate Shot Team Play
48-45-48—141 – Martinez/Martinez of Kansas City, Mo. - Gold Medalist/Men’s Division #1
49-46-47—142 – Park/Boyle of Auburn, Ala. - Silver Medalist/Men’s Division #1

Level 1 - Individual Skills Competition (high score wins)
65-84-84—233 – Phillip Shepard of Mount Airy, Md. - Gold Medalist/Men’s Division #1
61-69-70—200 – Phillip Buzzell of Elon College, N.C. - Silver Medalist/Men’s Division #1