Golfers will admit that playing the game with consistent success is a challenge.
Now imagine trying to swing the bat on that little white ball while completely blind.
Sheila Drummond, who lives in Lehighton, graduated from Palmerton High School in 1972, where she played field hockey. When she was eight years old, diabetes had started to reduce her eyesight.
After six unsuccessful eye surgeries over the next 19 years, Drummond was diagnosed as completely blind in 1982 at the age of 27. She had to quit her job at the Lehigh Valley Hospital trauma center to learn to cope with a world she could no longer see. Your courage to do so was never in question.
“It is what it is,” said Drummond when the doctors told her. “I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in denial.”
Drummond and her husband Keith had attended a sporting event for the blind where they were told that you could water-ski, hike, and learn archery without eyesight.
At the event, Drummond met two visually impaired men who encouraged them to play golf.
“Yeah right,” she said sarcastically.
But after learning more about the idea, Drummond thought she would try.
She met Lynne Lazaro, a member of the Sighted Board of the United States Blind Golf Association. Lazaro’s father was a blind golfer after losing his sight in a land mine explosion during World War II.
Lazaro said the first imperative is that blind golfers must have coaches who can see the course for them.
“Blind golf is a team sport,” she says. “The coach, who has never played the game before, becomes the golfer’s eye. He or she sets up the ball and selects the club. Then the trainer tells the golfer how to aim the shot and judge the distance. The coach has to think about whether the ball is on a dogleg or how the slope is on the green. “
When Drummond first started playing the game, she liked it so much that she called it “an addiction that’s better than smoking.”
She had a few different coaches at first, but Keith said if after a year she was still interested in the game he would be her coach.
The shot that made history
Drummond improved her game by playing three or four times a week on the Mahoning Valley Country Club golf course near her home. Even in winter she practiced swinging her golf clubs in her driveway after shoveling the snow away.
“Swinging clubs in the driveway sounds boring, but it’s better than doing nothing or just running 10 miles a day,” she said with a laugh.
She noticed the problems that arise when one cannot see.
“Oh, there are times when I swing and miss the ball, or it might be difficult to understand exactly what my husband Keith is telling me about the type of shot I have to take,” she said.
Then came a moment on a damp and dreary August day in 2007 when, against all odds, Drummond landed the perfect shot on the Mahoning course.
They wanted to play a round of golf for two-men against women-but when it started drizzling Drummond thought of returning home.
Instead, she and Keith decided to stay and play the round.
At the 144-yard par 3 fourth hole, Drummond hit the tee and Keith detailed the shot in her ears. Drummond swung her club and hit the ball right in the center.
“I saw the ball fly between two bunkers,” Keith said, “and we both heard the ball hit the pin on the hole. ‘It’s going in!’ I shouted. ‘It is in!’
“We jumped into the golf cart and drove over this bridge towards the green. When I got out I didn’t see the ball on the green but someone said it went in and I looked in the hole and there it was. I told Sheila and she said: ‘Are you serious?’ “
For a eyesighted golfer, the odds of hitting a hole in one are 12,000-1.
Drummond, at age 52, became the first completely blind woman in the United States to accomplish this feat. The shot immediately brought her notoriety and fame. She and Keith appeared on the Good Morning America show in New York City.
“They picked us up in a limo,” said Keith.
“The show was live and they asked me to put a few balls into a net,” Sheila said. “Of course I was nervous and they told me that there is a window behind the net that costs millions of dollars. I trusted my muscle memory as to what to do on the courts and managed not to miss the balls and hit them all into the net. “
At home in Lehighton, the Drummonds were inundated with phone calls.
“I had to call my parents to come over and answer the phone while Keith was at work,” Sheila said. “It was crazy. I had one interview after the other.”
The hall calls
Drummond continued her golf career playing at tournaments in Rhode Island, New York, Texas, Oregon, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida. One thing remained common during their country tour: all of their competitors were men. She finished second in the Raleigh Regional and won numerous awards at several other tournaments. In 1993 she shot a 62 for nine holes and has a best 118 for 18 holes.
“There are days when I play horrible like everyone else,” she said.
“I can blame my coach for telling me the wrong thing, but since he’s my husband it’s not a good thing because we have to go home together,” she added with a laugh.
Drummond became a member of the USBGA in 1995. She was elected to the board in 2002 and later served as president for two years.
The organization was first formed in Minnesota in 1938 with very little attention.
In early October this year, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the National Golf Championships in Orlando, Florida, Drummond was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the US Blind Golf Association.
“The Hall of Fame Award is given to individuals and organizations that support, promote and preserve the history of blind golf,” said Lazaro. “Shila is a remarkable woman. She has taken control of her life and has achieved many notable milestones in her career as a blind golfer. We installed a brick in front of our Hall of Fame building, reminiscent of their hole in one. “
Now at the age of 67, Drummond takes her golfing successes calmly. She speaks of them with wit and humor that infect anyone who should have the privilege of being in her company.
You and Keith will soon be traveling again and continuing to play the game they love.
As you drive through Lehighton this winter, don’t be surprised to see Drummond standing on the driveway swinging a golf club through some snowflakes falling from the sky.
Sheila Drummond (right) and her husband and trainer Keith are seen here at the ChampionsGate Resort in Florida. Drummond was recently inducted into the US Blind Golf Hall of Fame. ENCLOSED PHOTO
Lehighton’s Sheila Drummond tees off during a round of golf. ENCLOSED PHOTO