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Blind golfers hit the links in tournament

Coach Bill Carter, left, helped Ty Thompson, right, line up his drive on the first hole in the United State Blind Golf Association Bluegrass Regional Tournament being played at the Golf Club of the Bluegrass, 6000 Harrodsburg Rd. in Nicholasville, Ky., Monday, July 18, 2011. Eight golfers with varying degrees of blindness competed in the two day tournament. Each golfer has a coach to assist with lining up shots. Charles Bertram | Staff
Coach Bill Carter, left, helped Ty Thompson, right, line up his drive on the first hole in the United State Blind Golf Association Bluegrass Regional Tournament being played at the Golf Club of the Bluegrass, 6000 Harrodsburg Rd. in Nicholasville, Ky., Monday, July 18, 2011. Eight golfers with varying degrees of blindness competed in the two day tournament. Each golfer has a coach to assist with lining up shots. Charles Bertram | Staff

Golf is known as a fiendishly difficult game.

But trying to put the tiny ball in a hole a few hundred yards away when you can barely see the ball, or not at all, is really demanding.

Ty Thompson knows. He participated Sunday and Monday with seven other golfers in a qualifying event for the U.S. Blind Golf Association national championship, held at the Golf Club of the Bluegrass on Harrodsburg Road.

The event included players who have severely limited vision and those with no vision at all.

Thompson, of Lexington, calls himself a "relative newcomer" to the sport — he lost his vision in 2004 — but he is one of the top-ranked blind golfers in the country. He is a board member of the U.S. Blind Golf Association. Its motto is: "You don't have to see it to tee it."

"Every time you have one of these events, it brings more awareness and more people who are interested in playing," he said.

The golfers played a 36-hole tournament to qualify for the championship in Columbus, Ga., Aug. 20 to 25. All eight who played in the Kentucky Bluegrass Regional advanced.

It's the first time that the U.S. Blind Golf Association has held a tournament in Kentucky, Thompson said. Other states represented included Arizona, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio and Tennessee.

"If you take a sighted player and say, 'Let's blindfold you and see how you hit the ball,' it's completely different," he said. "They're like, 'I don't know how you do it.'"

Some special rules apply in blind golf. Each player is allowed to have a coach who accompanies the player around the course. The coach lines up the player in relation to the hole and places the player's club behind the ball.

Unlike caddies in sighted golf tournaments, coaches also can advise blind players on game strategy and offer suggestions so players can make adjustments if they're hitting the ball incorrectly.

Players' spouses, close friends or other players usually serve as coaches.

Within the special rules of the game, top-rated blind players can put up some amazing golf scores, Thompson said.

"Most of the totally blind players can compete effectively at around 120 (strokes), and many of those with severely impacted vision can play at 100 or below," he said.

Thompson, 50, said that there are golf clinics for children who are blind or have severely impaired vision.

"The kids get so excited, because many times, this teaches them something that they never thought was possible," he said.

"Then, they come and find that it's actually possible. It's not necessarily to make them a golfer sometime in the future, but it teaches them they shouldn't consider limitations. It lets you try things you didn't think you could do."

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