Golfers converge for Pittsburgh Amputee Championship
CLINTON TOWNSHIP: Their stories make double bogeys seem trivial.
Mike Oehling lost a portion of his right leg in a motorcycle accident in 1974.
Bob Damico’s right arm had to be amputated after he was electrocuted at work in 1991.
Kellie Valentine lost half of her right arm in a 1993 car accident.
Handicaps are meant to level the playing field in golf. They are what unite the group of golfers in town for the 11th annual Pittsburgh Amputee Championship.
Twenty two golfers, playing in amputee divisions ranging from below the knee to above the elbow, never cease to amaze when they tee it up Friday and Saturday at Saxon Golf Course.
Some swing one-handed. Others hop on one foot to take their shot.
And it’s not like they can’t play. Defending men’s champion Bob Buck, the executive director of the EAGA, shot rounds of 80 and 79 to win last year.
“We have several guys who can shoot in the 70s,” said Oehling, a Freeport native who is the tournament director and vice president of the Eastern Amputee Golf Association. “People keep coming back because they have a lot of fun around other amputees. There are a lot of us who love to compete. This gives us that chance against golfers with the same disabilities.”
The association, which has over 800 members, holds tournaments around the country. Saxon has become a regular tour stop.
“I’ve been told I intimidate other people (without disabilities),” Oehling said. “I’m not sure as to why. I can hit it straight, but not as far as some people.”
Damico is new to the game. He was looking to get better so he sought lessons. Then, he sought someone to play with.
Golf was the last thing on his mind after the accident.
“He had 7,200 volts of electricity go through his body,” said Damico’s wife, Terry. “He spent two months in the hospital but was back to work in 13 months. The whole time, he never felt bad for himself.”
Golf quickly became a hobby for Damico.
“He has the fever,” Terry said. “One of his joys is to own a motorcycle, that’s out. The other is to play golf.”
Terry said her husband used to wear a prosthetic arm, but got used to life without it. Chores that seem routine to most, such as tying a necktie, became a pain in the neck for Damico.
“He would spend a half and hour putting his arm on,” she said. “It was a big process. So he figured out how to do things without (the arm).”
Other golfers expected to compete this week are Gina Ladafian of Export, who is missing most of her right leg. Ladafian finds ways — and time — to play golf and belong to Three Rivers Rowing Club.
Sam Bernardm a paraplegic, will play in a wheel chair.
“Everybody likes to see the pros,” Oehling said. “I do, too. We’re not pros, but we love to play the game.”
Oehling said amputee golfers can register up until the opening morning of the two-day event.
“If someone shows up the day of the tournament, they can play,” Oehling said. “I won’t turn anyone away.”