On sept. 28, I officially passed the PGA of America's Playing Ability Test (PAT), which is the first step toward becoming a teaching pro. I did it by shooting a 72-75 at Tumwater Golf Course in Olympia, Wash. Thousands of people have passed the test, which requires you to shoot 151 or better while walking 36 holes in a single day. It took me 19 tries to pass. I'm the first person with cerebral palsy to do so.
I was born with the affliction, but during my 25 years I've worked hard to keep it from stopping me. Although I need forearm crutches to walk, my parents introduced me to golf at Riverside Golf Club in Portland when I was seven years old. I played junior golf and made the team at Grant High. And I remain proud of making the basketball team at Alameda elementary school. (Once in a while they even let me play.) I tried out for the golf team at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., but failed to make it.
I struggled but continued to play and work on my game every day. There were times when I questioned myself, times when I was exhausted, and times when I struggled with isolation, depression and loneliness. But I simply loved golf, and that kept me going.
In 2002, after graduating with a degree in golf management, I decided to become a PGA-certified golf instructor so I could help others with disabilities discover and excel at the game. That's when I came face-to-face with the Playing Ability Test. I could score well enough-my personal best for 18 holes is 72-but trying to walk 36 holes in a day wore me out. At one point the PGA of America offered to let me spread the test over two days, but I refused.
After my 11th attempt I met Mike Adams, a former amateur champion from the Portland area who years earlier had been temporarily rendered a quadriplegic after a near-fatal car accident. Now fully recovered, Mike understood me as few had before. He became my caddie and my mentor, taking me under his wing and teaching me a lot about golf-and about life. Over two years and eight more attempts at the test, we became great friends and ultimately achieved our goal.
Although life dealt me a tough break, I consider myself a very lucky man in that I am the son of loving and compassionate parents, without whom I never would have succeeded. They stood by me as I swung and missed, fell down, then picked myself up and swung again.
A lot of people swing and miss in life, and I'm not done swinging. I plan to promote golf to other people with disabilities because I believe in their potential. I also still hope to play on a tour and-oh, yeah-someday I'm going to learn how to walk.
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Nov. 14 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.