SPORTS: Life lessons revealed on a nine-hole golf course

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I received the best golf lesson of my life recently, and it didn’t cost a dime.

My instructor didn’t work on my grip, my stance or my posture at address. He didn’t tell me to keep my head down, my left arm straight or to turn my hips toward the target.

We didn’t talk about fluffy, plugged or tight lies. We didn’t talk about reading putts or reading divots.

We didn’t work on driving, long irons, short irons, wedge play or bunker shots.

Yet, I learned so much. Or, at least, I was reminded of so much.

On a recent sunny Saturday morning, my wife, Sherry, and I drove to the Crooked Creek Golf Club on the city’s northwest side.

We had volunteered as caddies for Special Olympics Indiana’s statewide golf competition.

Occasionally, you hear Special Olympians described as people who “suffer” from intellectual disabilities. Suffer not only is the wrong word, it is demeaning. The truth is that the ones who suffer are those who can’t-like the forest for the trees-see the abilities for the disabilities.

Such as the ability to inspire and the ability to teach, which the Special Olympians in our group did.

There was David Mannen from St. Joseph County, who goes by his nickname “Fez.” There was Jason Plante from Tippecanoe County. And there was David Tuttle from Putnam County.

It was a nine-hole tournament, played according to USGA rules. The only adjustment in the scoring was that 10 was the maximum any golfer could score on a hole.

The competition was conducted on Crooked Creek’s back nine, which is “executive” length-meaning short-that plays to a par 32. Still, it had enough of the kinds of things-water, sand, rough and out of bounds-that can hurt a score.

Let me cut to the results.

“Fez” shot a remarkable 3-over 35. Taught the game by his brother, who is a professional at a city course in South Bend, Fez had a controlled draw and a deft putting stroke. Best of all, his polite, easygoing demeanor didn’t change over the nine holes, which, come to think of it, might have been another reason he shot 35.

Jason is only 16 but also is an excellent golfer. As his caddie, I kept offering advice on various shots. Only he kept waving me off, saying, “I know what I have to do.”

He did. After a shaky triple-bogey on the first hole, he went on to shoot 39.

So two of our golfers broke 40, impressing us with their abilities, and making us forget their disabilities.

But as far as Sherry and I were concerned, David Tuttle supplied the joy-and the golf lesson-of the day.

He hasn’t played in many competitions and he struggled. He had five “10s” on his scorecard and finished with a total in excess of 80. And his ball was like a vining stick-if there was water anywhere nearby, the ball would find it.

But David never became discouraged, frustrated (OK, maybe just a little) or angry. He immediately forgot the last bad shot, and focused on trying to hit the next good shot. As the round progressed, he got better. The smile never left his face. Hey, it was a sunny Saturday on a golf course … no reason to let a few lost balls and a big score spoil that.

Special Olympics Indiana has a slogan: “It’s All About Attitude.” David was the personification of that.

The next day, Sherry and I went golfing and I was hitting it, well, lousy. But each time I began to complain about my poor play, Sherry would stop me.

“Think about David,” she said.

She was right. So many joys in life, like a sunny day on the golf course with my bride at my side. Forget the bad shot. Focus on the next shot. And smile.

Lesson learned. Thanks, David.

And while I still (I hope) have your attention, allow me to make a pitch. The John Wooden Tradition Golf Tournament to benefit Special Olympics Indiana takes place Sept. 27 at Prairie View. Proceeds benefit the 11,000 Hoosier Special Olympians who-like Tom, David and Fez-inspire and teach the rest of us about the joy of sports and competition. Packages, including golf and premium seating at the John Wooden Tradition basketball doubleheader at Conseco Fieldhouse in November (Purdue University plays Xavier University, and the University of Notre Dame takes on North Carolina State University) are available; call Lisa Turner at 328-2000.

Tell her David sent you.

Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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