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The blind beating the blind

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I suspect, what with the Olympics drawing near and the CFL season kicking off, you are champing at the bit to hear how I fared in my shootout against Manitoba's blind golf champion.

When I learned Victor Goetz, 62, will compete in the national and world blind golf championships next month in Truro, N.S., I decided to challenge him in a sincere and humanitarian effort to hone his competitive edge.

Blessed with golf skills and a sense of humour, Victor jumped at the opportunity, so we hooked up under a blazing sun Monday morning at Tuxedo Golf Course, which is four minutes from my house, so naturally I drove.

Being fair-minded, I agreed to play every hole wearing special eyeglasses provided by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind that simulate visual impairments, such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.




Ranked No. 2 in Western Canada and No. 7 in Canada, Victor was born with five per cent vision in both eyes, so he relies on his coach, Juergen Werner, a retired teacher who about 30 years ago launched Winnipeg School Division golf league, to guide him.

"When I tee up, I can see the ball on the tee, but I can't see if my club is open or closed," Victor explains. "Basically, I golf like everybody else. I just can't see where the ball is going. Ha ha ha!"

Juergen serves as Victor's eyes, lining him up for every shot and painting a detailed picture of what lies ahead.

"I have to rely on my coach," Victor says as we await our tee time. "If I go on my own, my score will balloon like the Goodyear Blimp going up in the sky."

Laughs Juergen: "When he hits the ball, I have to watch where it goes because he'd lose every golf ball."

Shepherding me and my special glasses around the course is Don Dulder, a retired phys-ed teacher who helps coach Victor.

On the first hole, after being lined up, Victor smacks a 210-yard drive down the middle of the fairway, whereas I, in my cataract-simulating glasses -- which make everything appear foggy, as if I'm peering through Coke-bottle bottoms -- wallop one off into the trees on the left.

A few strokes later, Victor rolls in a tidy three-foot putt for a bogey five, while Mr. Trash Talker requires a handful of extra strokes to finish the hole.

"The guy with the cataracts gets an eight, which is awesome!" coach Don chirps.

On the 470-yard second hole, Juergen aims Victor down the fairway and lectures: "OK, a little more right. It's very narrow, so don't overhit because you'll pull it right. Keep your right arm straight. That's good."

Victor promptly duffs a drive 25 yards to the right. "Yikes! I hit it with the heel," the former Paralympian snorts.

Throughout the day, Victor sinks shockingly long putts and, on almost every hole, outdrives me by about 10 years, which I inform him is not fair because he is only five-six while I am a touch over six-four.

Every few holes, I change glasses. The diabetic retinopathy pair are like looking through a vegetable strainer, while the glaucoma lenses mimic looking through pinholes in the bottom of a shoebox.

I complain to Victor that, whereas his visual impairment remains constant, mine changes every few holes.

Victor laughs, which he does a lot.

"Excuses, excuses," he cackles.

Every so often, the raging wind rips the glasses off my face. This happens on the eighth green. "I CAN SEE!" I shriek in mock joy, which prompts Victor and our coaches to bellow: "IT'S A MIRACLE!"

Hitting a golf ball you can barely see is a major challenge, but after a few holes, it becomes clear I am probably playing as well as or better than I normally do.

"When you can see, you just hit it," Victor explains, "but when you can't see, it forces you to really concentrate."

My concentration slips a bit when, on the odd hole, I wander over to the wrong golf cart and try to stuff my clubs in someone else's bag. This gives Victor and our coaches great joy. "What's the matter with you? Are you blind?" they laugh. It's that kind of day and the game has transformed us from blind rivals to bosom buddies.

Manitoba's blind golf champion soundly spanks me, shooting 98. I get a shabby 108. I ask Victor what golf means to him, expecting a warm, fuzzy reply. But this soft-spoken gentleman is more matter of fact.

"There's a lot of things I can't do, but this is something I can do and enjoy," he says. "It's great to go out and do something instead of sitting at home doing nothing."

He may have crushed me on the course, but he also opened my eyes.

The price of victory

In July, Manitoba's Victor Goetz will tee it up against Canada's best blind golfers in the national championship in Truro, N.S.

Then he'll represent our province at the World Blind Golf Championship, also in Truro.

To get to these major tournaments, he'll need your help. The trips will cost around $4,000 and he could use some sponsors to help defray the expenses. You can contact Victor at 667-6808.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2012 A2

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