Date: October 11, 2018
Author: Martin Blake

Aussies win world blind golf titles

Two Australians have won world titles at the World Blind Golf Championships in Italy.

They include veteran blind golfer Jenny McCallum from Perth, and a rookie at the worlds, Sydney’s Michele Watts.

McCallum won the gross world title at Golf Club Parco de Medici in Rome with a 36-hole score of 211. The Perth woman suffers from Stargadt’s condition, a macular degeneration of the eyes. She previously won a world title in 2015.

Watts, from Chatswood Golf Club and Monash Golf Club on Sydney’s north shore, won the women’s nett title with a nett 139 on a countback from Northern Ireland’s Jan Dinsdale at her first appearance in a world championship.

A long-time golfer, she has only played in blind competitions for a year after losing her vision in both eyes over 2015-16 because of an optic nerve condition known as Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. Now she is a world champion.

“It felt amazing,’’ Watts said. “I don’t expect to be. I went along for the opportunity to participate with the help of my caddies and they were so thrilled as well, obviously.’’

Although the competition was close, Watts had no clue that she was in contention on the final day. “Because of my sight loss I’m not marking the card, and it’s almost preferable for me not to know. It makes you focus on each hit, I think.’’

Eight Australians played in the titles in Rome among the 14 countries represented. One of the highlights for Watts was what the players dubbed the ‘athletic village’ at the course hotel, where the sense of fraternity was strong.

“It was just like an athletic village. If you think about it, blindness is indiscriminate. So, you have all the players and their caddies, old and young, and everybody has different reasons for their low vision. So many of those stories unfold as you meet them. There were many examples of inspirational people and we all had golf in common.’’

Watts also won the Italian Open nett title with a nett score that was lower than the men’s title-winner and McCallum won the gross title there in the lead-up to the worlds.