Handicap?...What handicap?

ca neil merry done Gallo Images Neil Merry is one of the golfers competing at the 14th annual Nedbank SA Disabled Open at Langebaan Country Estate this week

Daneel Knoetze

STAFF REPORTER

SA’s leading disabled golfers had more than one handicap to overcome on their way to being the best in their field.

And this week, the best of the best are squaring off at the 14th annual Nedbank SA Disabled Open at Langebaan Country Estate.

The three-day tournament, which started yesterday, is being hosted by the SA Disabled Golf Association and includes golfers, with varying forms of physical disabilities, from five provinces.

Conditions yesterday morning were “impeccable”, said the assocation’s executive director, Eugene Vorster.

“The young competitors were very professional. They were meeting their caddies and you could see that many were really thinking about their game.”

This year will see defending champion Daniel Slabbert, who lost his left leg in a trampoline accident when he was 14, returning to face two-time champion Iglin Grobbelaar.

Slabbert denied Grobbelaar a hat-trick of tournament wins when he beat him by two strokes in difficult conditions last year. Other challengers include Trevor Reich, Reinard Schuhknect, a single-arm amputee, and Christo de Jager, joint leader after the first 18 holes.

“Winning the title last year seems easy compared to having to defend it, what with the likes of Reinard and Iglin on my heels,” said Slabbert, who was joint leader with a score of 77 after the first round.

“I missed a few birdies that I really should have nailed.”

Slabbert is hard on himself, because his ambitions as a golfer have risen. After winning the last tournament, Slabbert said his career had “taken off”.

He travelled to Sweden last year and represented SA at the World Handicap Golf Championships and the Swedish Invitational, as well as being voted the South African Disabled Golfer of the year in 2011.

With the help of special coaching at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria, he now hopes to follow in the footsteps of Oscar Pistorius by competing professionally against able-bodied athletes.

“My sights are set on the Sunshine Tour. That dream is still some way away, but I’m sure that it is attainable if I carry on working hard the way that I’ve been doing,” said Slabbert.

Vorster said the professional ambitions of Slabbert and his contemporaries in the tournament were realistic. He stressed however that the association was about uplifting disabled athletes, giving those who have been disabled a fun way and supportive environment for rehabilitation.

“Often when someone becomes disabled in an accident, they think it’s the end of the line, they feel like they want to give up,” said Vorster.

“But we’ve seen time and time again how golf can make them feel that their lives are worthwhile again.

“And, after they’ve committed to the sport anew, there’s no reason why they can’t go on to compete at the highest level.”

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