Juan Postigo was chipping in the practice area at The Lakes the other day and Peter Lonard, twice #AusOpenGolf champion, asked him if he wanted to play.
Postigo knew who Lonard was; he was chuffed as they played nine holes together.
The Australian All Abilities Championship presented by ISPS Handa has piqued a lot of interest not only from the media and the public but from the professional players here for the 2018 Open.
The disabled players are on the range and out on the course right in the thick of the action, just as they will be from Friday when they play their own championship smack, bang in the field of top pros and amateurs for the Open.
It has already been a groundbreaking week; Postiga found himself on the back page of one of Australia’s biggest-selling newspapers and Golf Australia’s initiative in holding the AAAC alongside the Open is a world-first.
“We are going to be part of history first of all,’’ said Postigo, the world No. 2 who ditches his prosthetic right leg to play his shots.
“The experience is going to be positive. We’ll enjoy it. You may not think about it, but the professional athletes are going to have an experience. Their experience is going to be something too. I think they don’t expect what they’re going to see.”
Today the USGA and the R&A announced a new worldwide rankings system which is part of the push to get golf into the Paralympics. The application for the 2024 Paralympics in Paris was rejected recently, but the work to correct that anomaly has already begun.
Postigo and Melburnian Mike Rolls did the media roadshow at The Lakes today, and both men are superb ambassadors for their branch of the sport. Postiga was born without his leg, while Rolls contracted meningococcal on an end-of-season football trip as a young man, lost one leg, then chose to have the other amputated because of the problems it was causing for him.
Postigo, one of the favourites to win this week, wants to improve to the point where he can turn professional. “I’d love to,’’ he said. “I think it would be a way to prove that we can achieve what we want to do.’’
Asked about his short game, he flashed back to the questioner: “Magical! I’m Spanish!’’
Rolls, who plays off a five handicap at The National, has been a passionate advocate for the sport.
“It’s a bit surreal,’’ he said. “It’s pretty exciting obviously. I think about where we’ve all come from, such a low point. I got sick when I was 18. I contracted meningococcal septicaemia. I breathed in at the wrong time, something as simple as that, and that resulted in the loss of my legs, and I think back to those hospital days and what I looked like, down to 47 kilos, so now to be at the Australian Open playing in the All Abilities Championship is a very special moment.’’
Rolls said playing golf had played a significant part in his recovery, notably with his mindset. “I think everyone understands how tough golf is. Golf is a very hard game to play when you’ve got all your legs and all your arms and no issues whatsoever. I guess this is a display of what you can do if you work hard.’’
Postigo said the AAAC had already created so much interest that it would catch fire overseas.
“I think they will copy this idea,’’ he said. “I’m sure they will.’’
Said Tony Bennett, president of the European Disabled Golf Association: “Fifteen percent of the world is disabled. We should not exclude those people from playing the game.’’
Postigo is playing with a somewhat heavy heart. His close friend Celia Barquin, an outstanding Spanish amateur player who was on scholarship at an American college, was recently murdered on the golf course in the US.
“I’m sure if I make a result, or not, she’ll be the first one happy for me up there. That’s all I can say.’’
The AAAC begins on Friday from 1.35pm at The Lakes, with 12 of the world’s best disabled golfers in the field. It continues on Saturday and Sunday.
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