Date: June 18, 2014
Author: Special Olympics Australia

Golf helps Tom overcome challenges

any intellectually disabled person, the challenges of life are always there – whether it is the ability to learn, adapt, integrate, be accepted, or be independent.

Tom Leray-Meyer has overcome some of these challenges through his love of golf.  On his recent 21st birthday, Tom, a member of Long Reef Golf Club, achieved what many club golfers never get to experience.  In the members’ Saturday competition, Tom shot a hole-in-one, as well as winning a monthly medal. His additional qualifying for the final of the C-Grade club championship capped a remarkable two weeks in May. However, these remarkable achievements were even more significant for Tom, as an intellectually disabled person. They represented him overcoming some monumental life challenges. 

Tom’s success since becoming a member of Long Reef Golf Club at the age of 12 is not just about competing, or even winning.  It is also a story of acceptance, inclusion, support and the experience of opportunities. From the time his father put a golf club in Tom’s hands at the age of 11, until that hole-in-one 10 years later, golf was destined to change Tom’s life forever.  

Tom was born with a very rare medical condition which caused seizures for 85% of his day. This caused severe intellectual delay and a very poor quality of life.  In 1997 at 4 years of age he underwent brain surgery, the first of its kind in the world, at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, to try to reduce the seizures. This surgery changed his life and that of his family. 

While not eliminated, the seizures were significantly reduced, enabling Tom to finally learn to talk, and attempt learning tasks which most people take for granted. His intellectual disability, although still significant, also slowly improved. His development since 1997 is a tribute to all those who have in some way supported him.  

Tom became hugely interested in sports and loved ball games. When aged 7 he demonstrated excellent hand-eye coordination, his parents realised that sport may offer him a pathway for a more independent life.  At 10 and 11 Tom was playing in the local junior baseball league for Hornsby Rangers. While he could not run fast and had no tactics, he could catch, throw and hit the ball with great accuracy, making him a demon pitcher in the U/12s ‘live pitching’.   

Tom loved all sports and became particularly fascinated with the achievements of Tiger Woods. One fateful day Tom’s golfer dad handed him a junior golf club to play with in the backyard. When Tom swung the club naturally and was able to hit the ball, his dad realised that golf could be the sport for him. (Unlike other ball sports that require teamwork and tactics – a real challenge due to Tom’s intellectual disability – golf is more of an individual game). He and his Dad spent the next six months hitting golf balls at the local oval every Sunday morning.

Tom’s first opportunity to play golf competitively was provided through his membership of the Special Olympics golf programme at Avondale Golf Club in Sydney, which involved coaching from Tony Barr and an opportunity to simply play.  Aged 12, he was selected to represent NSW in the 2006 Special Olympics National Games at the Gold Coast, achieving a gold medal at Emerald Lakes Golf course.  He has since  won gold medals at another Special Olympics National Games and received a Variety-funded golf scholarship.

While participating in Special Olympics activities, Tom’s amazing hand-eye co-ordination was spotted by Rex Langthorne AM, who developed the Special Olympics golf programme in Australia. Rex is also former Chair of Special Olympics Australia and International Board Member, as well as a member of Long Reef Golf Club. Rex persuaded Tom’s parents to enrol him in Long Reef’s Junior Cadet Programme, to enhance his golf and open up opportunities in the sport.

Here Tom improved enormously under the tutelage of members Don and Sandra Gillies, Dwayne Stockini and club professional Danny Vera. More importantly, his independence developed and he needed less assistance and support when playing the course.

He has now achieved more goals since taking up the sport of golf, than most golfers manage in a lifetime of playing the sport. 

Tom represented Long Reef Golf Club at the 2008 PGA Junior Golf Festival in Queensland as the only intellectually disabled junior. By the age of 18, Tom started to play C Grade in his own right, achieving full member status and given an official handicap.  Since then he has won C Grade competitions eight times and won three Monthly Medals, from a field of an average of 70 players in his grade.

He has also travelled with the club for its annual challenge against Goulburn Golf club. In 2013 the club selected Tom as one of its four scoreboard volunteers to assist at the Australian Open, hosted by Royal Sydney Golf Club. At the recent club championship finals in C Grade, for which Tom had to win through three challenging rounds of match-play golf to qualify, Tom went down fighting at the 33rd hole.

Long Reef Golf Club’s management has provided Tom with every opportunity to participate in the full range of the club’s activities.  The level of acceptance, inclusion and support within the club have provided Tom with a pathway to a more independent life. 

When Tom achieved his 21st birthday hole-in-one and 1st place in C Grade Competition in May, Long Reef Club Captain, Jimmy Knox, commented at the presentation that Tom had made a habit of winning, the coveted Monthly Medal being his third in eight months. The reception Tom received by the club’s members that day, as well as during his progress through the club championships, and each and every day at the club whether playing well or not, is the true success of this story, and a tribute to Long Reef. Tom’s ambition now is to make B Grade, from his current handicap of 22.  We think he’ll make it with style. Tiger Woods – eat your heart out!