Blind Golfer's Game A Real Eye-opener
Bill McMahon's last clear picture of the world is that of a lush, green fairway. In February 1983 McMahon was playing golf with three friends near Miami when he became dizzy after a tee shot. "Suddenly everything was blurry," says McMahon. "I felt like I'd been leveled by Mike Tyson, but I had no idea what was happening to me."
A few days later doctors told McMahon, a diabetic, that he bad suffered a retinal hemorrhage in his left eye brought on by his illness. He had several laser surgeries, but none helped. Six months later he was legally blind in both eyes. "I was convinced that I'd never hit another golf ball," says the 39-year-old McMahon, who lives in Framingham, Mass., and played golf at Holy Cross in 1978 and '79. "I was depressed and bitter. It was a major project to get dressed, never mind play 18 holes."
McMahon did not pick up a club until the spring of 1985, when a close friend, Ed Zamm, brought him to Shorehaven Golf Club, the same course McMahon had played while growing up in East Norwalk, Conn. Zamm handed McMahon a five-iron and asked him to give it a shot. "I was terrified," says McMahon. "Try closing your eyes and hitting—it's not easy. I whiffed the first few attempts, but then I made contact. The ball flew only 100 yards, but it was the sweetest five-iron I've ever hit."
For the last seven years McMahon has played under the tutelage of Kevin Sullivan, whom he met through a mutual friend. Sullivan serves as McMahon's eyes on the course. Before each shot Sullivan aligns McMahon's grip and feet, then goes over the conditions surrounding the shot and tells him how hard to hit the ball. McMahon averages 115 for 18 holes—his low score is 103—and plays in about six sanctioned U.S. Blind Golfers Association tournaments a year. He has also participated in three Stuart Cups, a Ryder Cup-like international match for the blind.
"What's especially fun is when I go somewhere and get paired with sighted guys who've never seen a blind man play," says McMahon, who is preparing for the U.S. Blind Golfers' Championship on Sept. 20-23 at Disney World in Orlando. "You can't imagine the yelps I hear from folks who've just watched a blind guy crank a 230-yard drive down the fairway. I may be blind, but that doesn't mean I can't be a golfer. The only thing I can't do is drive a cart."
Thorpe Tries to Put Difficulties Behind Him
In preparation for the Senior tour, Jim Thorpe is trying to rediscover his game after a dismal stretch of golf and a trying time in his personal life. In October 1995 his father, Elbert, passed away. His mother, Vivian, died six weeks later. That December his daughter, Sheronne, then a freshman at Virginia State, alleged that she was raped by the quarterback of the school's football team and another athlete as three other athletes waited their turn. Although the quarterback was charged with sexual assault (charges were not brought against the four others) and suspended from the football program, he was acquitted and later reinstated to the team.
"The first thing you want to do is grab a gun and blow their heads off," says the 48-year-old Thorpe. "It was tough. It was six or seven months of pure hell for my wife. There were nights when she'd wake up from a bad dream, shouting."
Thorpe put golf on hold for nearly six months to spend more time with his daughter, who left Virginia State and moved to Florida with her parents. She recently filed a $13 million civil suit against the school and the men she accused of raping her. "She's doing very well," Thorpe says of Sheronne. "I feel like being around her made me stronger, realizing how strong she is at 20."