A PLAYERS Championship Field Trip
May 11, 2011
By Michael Curet, Special to Together, Anything's Possible
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—For 12 enthusiastic students from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, taking a 30-minute bus ride from St. Augustine to watch the best PGA TOUR players in the world play the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass beats sitting in a classroom any day of the week.
For the seventh year at TPC Sawgrass, teaching professional Rob Strano joined forces with the PGA TOUR on the the 18th hole at Dye’s Valley Course on May 11 to give hearing-impaired students an instructional and fun learning experience that they will likely never forget.
Strano, director of golf at Kelly Plantation in Destin, Fla., has been working with hearing-impaired kids for more than 20 years. Following an injury-plagued professional playing career, he decided to learn sign language in 2004 and take his show, United States Deaf Camps, on the road.
Earlier this year, Strano was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Arizona and has 2011 camps scheduled on the PGA TOUR calendar at the Memorial, Viking Classic, The Barclays and THE TOUR Championship. He also does a couple of events on the LPGA.
And, you never know which PGA TOUR player might drop in to help out and show off some of their unique skills.
That’s just what happened Wednesday when former PGA TOUR member-turned teaching professional Stan Utley captivated the crowd with his driving skills. When he reared back with a running start and did his best impression of Adam Sandler in his movie role as Happy Gilmore, the small gallery of students let out a roar as they watched his shot soar down the middle of the fairway.
“I just try to make it fun and give them a couple of shots they will enjoy,” said Utley, a winner on the PGA TOUR at the Chattanooga Classic in 1989 and three-time winner on the Nationwide Tour. “Rob does an amazing job across the country touching the lives of these kids who cannot hear, and I was happy to pitch in.”
Strano’s full slate of activities included a good mix of teaching tools for the children about swing balance, rhythm and speed.
Andrea Perez, an eighth-grader from Puerto Rico, learned that swinging a golf club fast is better than swinging it too hard. Eleven-year-old Doug Neehan of St. Augustine, who is looking forward to watching Tiger Woods this week at THE PLAYERS, says he now knows how to stand and how to use his hips and legs when swinging, thanks to Strano’s instruction.
Strano asked the group what other sports they liked and correlated how stances in other sports like baseball, football, basketball and soccer all have similarities to addressing a golf ball. After each student practiced his or her swing, the program moved swiftly into a series of drills and games on the putting surface.
Strano and the kids next took a short walk to the Taylor Made golf van and were able to see technicians work on a putter for Kevin Stadler and carve out a new driver for Y.E. Yang.
Then, a tour of the TPC Sawgrass practice facility and trip to the driving range provided a chance for the students to possibly get an up-close glimpse at one of the competitors making those final adjustments on their games before Thursday’s opening round.
Lunch in the clubhouse, then a trek over to the 17th island green where Strano saved the best for last.
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