Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blind golf catching on through tournament in Malaysia

From Aanthony Thanasayan at The Star in Malaysia:

I first met Yam Tong Woo, 57, about two years ago. That was about half a year after he suddenly became blind whilst working in China.

An infection caused him to lose his sight within a week. There was nothing the doctors could do to reverse his condition.

Despite his sudden disability, Yam learnt to accept his condition.

The former engineer has been actively helping other blind people.

During the recent Raya holidays, Yam was in Singapore for four days for the inaugural golf tournament called the Handa Singapore Classic.

Yam was one of three blind participants, the other two being an Australian and an Englishman. Their purpose was to raise awareness about blind golfing.

The first blind golf event in Asia was held in Japan 23 years ago by philanthropist Dr Haruhisa Handa, popularly known as the father of blind golf. He makes it a point to raise awareness about the special sport in all his sponsorship tournaments.

For Yam, the opportunity to participate with top golfers was beyond his wildest expectations.

“I never thought I would lose my sight completely,” said Yam, who had been playing golf for over 10 years before he was struck with blindness.

“When I became blind, I thought I would never set foot on a golf course again. Who would have imagined that I would get back to the golf course and tee off with some of the masters of the sport!”

Yam says that it was his family who encouraged him.

“My son and my wife offered to take me to the practice range.

“I was very self-conscious at first. I wondered what the sighted golfers would think about a blind man holding a golf club. I felt like a fool trying to hit a ball which I couldn’t see.

“Soon, people got used to the idea and some even came over to encourage me.”

Yam pointed out that he had to learn everything all over again, and the sport was even more challenging than when he had played it as a sighted person.

He had to get over the awkwardness of holding the golf club as well as hitting a ball that he couldn’t see, with the correct amount of strength.

His decisions and actions are all based on the detailed information provided by his wife who acts as his caddie and guide.

“The key to getting successful strikes is to always stay focused,” said Yam, who added that he was thankful to his family for pushing him back to his favourite sport.

At the Handa Singapore Classic, the professional sighted golfers played blindfolded.

The only thing that Yam worried about when he was teeing off was the buzz of an army of media personnel who had descended on the golf course. They were busy clicking away with their cameras.

“I felt the rush of excitement at being the only Asian to participate in the tournament. I remembered what I had to do – and that was to stay calm and focused,” said Yam.

“I visualised where the ball was, based on the details and instructions given by my caddie. After gauging the distance of the ball to the pin (the golf term for the hole in the green), I executed my shots.”