Blind golfer faces life and game with dignity and sense of humor


Golf is a simple game: Tee in the ground, ball on the tee, hit the ball.

OK, now try it blindfolded. Whoops. Even with a coach to line you up, not being able to see the ball certainly adds another dimension to the game. And it's probably one you don't need.

So, how about the golfer who can't see any better without the blindfold?

"We call it a physical challenge," said blind golfer Worth Dalton during his local appearance last week on behalf of an RP celebrity tournament due next month at Eagle's Nest.

Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of inherited, progressively blinding diseases. Tough to spell, tougher to pronounce, toughest to deal with, it affects 100,000 people in the United States and as many as 1.5 million worldwide.

RP causes the degeneration of the retina, which, in time, leads to decreased vision. Night blindness is the first symptom, and loss of peripheral vision usually follows. Although the disease progresses differently in each patient, the result is often total blindness.

That is how it was with Dalton, who serves as volunteer spokesman for the Baltimore-based RP Foundation Fighting Blindness at golf tournaments across the country.

Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, Dalton was a natural athlete who excelled in football and basketball. By the time he was 20, however, he had been found to have RP. His reaction was one of shock, self-denial and anger.

Although he had not played golf before his blindness, his wife and children encouraged him to take up the sport. Now, nine years later, at age 45, he has a 25 handicap and is vice president of the National Blind Golfers Association.

The NBGA was formed 46 years ago by a group of veterans who had lost their sight during World War II. Chief among them was Charlie Boswell, a solid player before the war, who came back to relearn his sport and dominate the organization's national championships in its early years.

"Now we have Pat Brown, who has won the national championship the last 14 years," Dalton said. "He will be going for No. 15 when we play the RP Swing for Sight at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 5-7.

"There are about 50 in the organization, but, for a variety of reasons, we qualify 25 for the championship. I finally qualified for it three years ago and now am ranked seventh."

By now, the shock and anger have passed, to be replaced by a warm sense of humor and an ability to laugh at himself.

During his visit last week, he was joined by local sports celebrities and an assortment of others who were blindfolded and given three hits, assisted by a coach who lined up the player. "Hit it the way you walk," Dalton yelled out to a young woman, just as though he could see her.

Later, he described one of his matches with his coach. "He was a scratch golfer and I was beating him. Then, for the next six holes or so, my swing deserted me, and it wasn't until later that I discovered they had been lining me up facing into the woods."

It did not take Dalton long to realize that loss of one of his senses made his others more acute. "The thing that gets in my way is having to be extremely focused all the time. My other senses are just so much sharper. I'll hear a bird whistle or an animal rustling leaves, and it can throw me off."

Dalton will return to play in the scramble tournament, sponsored by First National Bank of Maryland, Sept. 26. Additional information is available from the RP Foundation, 1401 Mount Royal Ave. (225-9400).


Defending champion David Rasley of Lakewood CC heads a 116-man field for the fifth annual men's Mid-Amateur championship of the Maryland State Golf Association scheduled for tomorrow and Tuesday at Talbot CC in Easton.


The first three teams of a year ago, headed by defending champions Richard and Justin Klein, are in the 100-team field for the 53rd annual Father-Son championship of the Maryland State Golf Association set for Friday at Woodmont CC in Rockville.


Chris Peddicord will defend his Middle Atlantic PGA championship in Williamsburg, Va., tomorrow through Wednesday, with a field of 129 scheduled to play single 18-hole rounds each day.


Entry deadlines: Middle Atlantic Golf Association -- Thursday for Senior Men to be held Aug. 29, Willow Oaks CC, Richmond; Friday for Women's Amateur to be held Sept. 4-5, Turf Valley CC.

United States Golf Association: Aug. 21 for 11th U.S. Mid-Amateur championship to be held Oct. 5-10, Long Cove Club, Hilton Head, S.C.


Notes: Adrian Druzgala of Hobbit's Glen Golf Club and Sheldon Kalish and Joel Kaye of Woodholme Country Club will be among 312 players seeking places in the 64-man draw when the 36-hole on-site qualifying for the United States Amateur begins Tuesday at the Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn. . . . The sixth annual Ronald McDonald House Pro-Am, to include professionals from the PGA Tour, LPGA, and Middle Atlantic PGA, will be held Aug. 26, at Eagle's Nest. Information is available from Terry Dykstra, 528-1010

This week's schedule: Tomorrow through Wednesday -- Middle Atlantic PGA championship, Williamsburg, Va., 8 a.m.; Tomorrow-Tuesday -- Maryland State Mid-Amateur, Talbot CC, Easton, 8 a.m. Tuesday -- Women's Golf Association, Hunt Valley GC, 9 a.m. Friday -- Maryland State Father-Son, Woodmont CC, 8 a.m.; Middle Atlantic PGA pro-am, Hog Neck GC, Easton, 8 a.m.

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