When I was first invited to play a few holes of "blind" golf with local legend Dick Pomo, my first thoughts were, “Sure, how bad could I be?”
Mind you, I'm a shoddy golfer at the best of times, so how much worse could I possibly be with a blindfold or a pair of goggles meant to simulate what it's like to have cataracts or macular degeneration?
The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is quite bad indeed.
After shanking my drive on the lovely first hole over at Haven Golf Course, and feeling helplessly lost as I tried to line up my shots, I gained a deep appreciation for what Pomo goes through on the course.
I somehow managed to smack a pretty good second shot, much to my surprise and that of Pomo's longtime coach, Clark Lambert, who was an absolute blast to play with.
I found my way onto the green with a chance at salvaging a par before running square into the devil that is trying to putt without knowing where the hole is.
To be fair, Lambert did his best to give me the layout of the green before each ill-fated putt, but I was utterly hopeless. I ended up picking up my ball after several sorry putts, again appreciating what my two playing partners deal with on an everyday basis.
Enjoying the effort
Pomo, 73, was born legally blind and became totally blind 13 years ago. He picked up the game when he was 30, living in Connecticut, and fell in love with the game instantly.
He said his greatest fear when he lost what little sight he had was that he would no longer be able to play golf. He said his outlook changed after he began playing in blind golf tournaments and met others who overcame similar obstacles to play the game he loves.
"I probably enjoy (golf) more because I play the game a little better now," Pomo said. "I concentrate more now. I play, with the help of Clark, and together we work on the game. We don't just go out there and play the game, we work on my shortcomings, too."
Pomo, with the help of his wife Sharon, has hosted a United States Blind Golf Association tournament at Haven for five years. He said the tournament, April 18-20 this year, is great because of the friends he has made and the camaraderie shared by competitors.
"They're people that you become friends with because of the game of golf, and for me, the people that I've met has been the most rewarding thing for me," Pomo said. At the banquet that wraps up the tournament, “I do all I can to fight back tears, because you spend a lot of time organizing it and you always look back and say, 'This was worth it'."
This year's tournament will feature 30 golfers, each with a coach by their side.
"One of the things that we really want to stress is that this tournament could not even begin to happen without the volunteers in Green Valley," Pomo said. "We're going to have probably 40 to 45 volunteers this year. I've been to tournaments all over this country, and there are always wonderful volunteers, but we're able to provide volunteers, most of whom give two days of their time."
He added that the volunteers routinely come back each year because they enjoy helping and become friends with other volunteers and players.
A great friendship
Pomo and Lambert have worked together on the course for three years and have known each other since they were neighbors several years ago.
Pomo said their relationship, both on and off the course, has blossomed because of the unique dynamics between the two.
"We kid about it, but it's true, that sometimes it's harder on the blind golfer than it is on the coach, and we make it that way," Pomo said. "If we don't play well, we feel like we're letting the coach down, and yet the coach feels the same way."
Lambert summed up his friendship with Pomo in a sentence. "That's really where it all started, and from there it's just blossomed into a really neat friendship."
My outing with Pomo and Lambert showed that any obstacle in life, no matter how dire, can be overcome with a positive disposition. Pomo's ability to take a devastating ailment and shape it into such a positive experience for others sharing similar vision-related issues is inspiring.
His sense of humor and good-natured outlook on life are apparent as soon as you meet this man. Here's how he described his relationship with Lambert.
"When the tournament's over, you look at it and think that, number one, you had a good time and you did the best you could, and it's still a game," Pomo said of playing in the tournament with Lambert. "We haven't even killed each other yet ...."
If only all of us could look at life like that.
Christopher Boan | 547-9747