ParaLong Drivers Are Stand Up And Play Athletes
Josh Williams Launches A Drive In The ParaLong Drive Championship
all images credit Fairways Media/Randy Dodson
January 28th, 2015
by Jim Claggett, Inside Golf
Getting the ball to go forward off the tee is something most golfers can accomplish on a regular basis.
Getting it to go forward as well as long is a different matter and we marvel at those who can bomb it off the tee.
Back in October I had the opportunity to witness a group of men and women who could hit it straight for the most part but the length of their tee shots was something to behold.
Some drives crept past the 200 yard mark while more than a few topped 300 yards.
Did I mention these competitors were missing an arm, a leg, both legs or maybe their vision?
It was the ParaLong Drive Championship in Mesquite, Nevada held on the same famous long drive grid where able bodied competitors have been letting their big dog eat for years.
It's the brainchild of Dean Jarvis, a laid back, amiable, above-the-leg amputee from Tennessee who instantly makes you feel like there is nobody else around while you ask questions of him.
Jared Brentz Defended His Amputee ParaLong Drive Title With A 360-Yard Smash
It was about two years ago, after he knew golf was going to be in the 2016 Olympics he realized the same game was rejected for the Paralympics. So he got to work .
"I needed to figure out some kind of event to get my peers on the biggest athletic stage I could get them on," he said. After watching the RE/MAX Long Drive championship in Mesquite and using his knowledge of the George W. Bush Warrior Open, the Amputee Long Drive Championship was born.
It certainly wasn't an 'if-you-build-it-they-will-come' scenario for Jarvis. Eight leg amputees and two arm amputees were the competitors at the very first event in Tennessee which made Jarvis nervous as he wanted more diversity.
He managed to get in touch with Easton Lachapelle, a brilliant 18-year old from Colorado who, by the way, invented a 3-D prosthetic arm which is controlled by the brain.
Using this young inventor's contacts he managed to get a couple more one-armed golfers to come to the event. One of those was Allen Gentry, a geologist who lost his right arm near the elbow when a drill bit caught his jacket and pulled him in.
Luckily the drill stopped spinning because as Gentry said, " The next thing to make contact was my head. But I did get a helicopter ride out of it."
"He wasn't even released from the doctor yet. He had a fractured shoulder and he still came and performed and did well," said Jarvis. It wasn't long after that he got some phone calls from other amputees who were looking to take part and it opened the door for many other players.
"So we opened it up for amputees who were blind, vision impaired, one-armed golfers and paralyzed golfers.
Golfers Who Need Assistance To Make Contact Use A Device Called The Paramobile From The Stand-Up-And-Play Foundation
So it's just kind of taken off." He worked closely with people like Brian Dangerfield in Mesquite's local government in order to get this ball rolling towards the very familiar long drive facility in the city of about 17,000.
"I just think, overall, it's showing the world how great the athletes are that are out here," he said about the real core of the event.
The word barrier crops up in the conversation with Jarvis and while he's nodding in agreement that barriers do exist he's armed with a response which essentially speaks for the competitors.
"I read an interview with Jared Brentz (defending amputee long drive champion) and he said when people tell him he can't do something he just tells them, 'Well, watch this'... real quick. I think that right there typifies the mindset of a lot of athletes at this event."
Brentz was crowned the champion once again with a drive of 360 yards that day but his best was back in May of 2014 when he powered one out there measuring 409 yards. That drive alone sends a message that these athletes can keep up with the best on the planet.
"Hopefully with us being able to hit it over 350, it makes a big enough statement in the golf world," said Brentz. Message received loud and clear!
It's one which seems to be gathering momentum as more disabled golfers are getting on board. "Fifteen months," Jarvis said about the journey since this event's inception. "From a practice range in Tennessee to the home of long drive and onto the Golf Channel."
Now there are about a dozen one-armed golfers who swing without any prosthetic and others who have something to help them with getting the club to meet the ball.
This day in the Mojave Desert in October there were about 60 hitters coming from all corners of the world including Australia, Israel, South Africa, Canada, the UK and parts of Europe.
Jarvis feels Canada is a real hotbed for amputee golf and he points to Josh Williams from Kitchener, Ontario who has won three Canadian National Championships, two United States championships and recently won a world championship over in South Africa.
Jesse Florkowski who plays college golf in Medicine Hat, Alberta and Bob MacDermott, born in Kindersley, Saskatchewan but lives in the Edmonton area, are two more Canadians who are among the best in his mind.
"Those three are great to lead off a team, so even with the United States, Australia and South Africa, you know Canada competes well with all of them."
Jarvis believes the sport of paralong drive inherently solves all the accessibiltiy problems for golfers with a handicap which fits like a glove for the Paralympics.
"There's no water, sand, uneven terrain. Every type of disability of the athletes that have wanted to try (long drive) they've just picked right up immediately and excelled. So we really don't have to do a lot with it. The sport, just the way it is, is a tremendous sport for the Paralympics in the future."