Linda Port savors the role she played in helping her team last month win an international golf tournament at the vaunted TPC Sawgrass course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The 74-year-old Rancho Santa Fe woman hit big shots and putts contributing to the victory despite being unable able to see her club and ball nor the hole directly in front of her.
Port was competing at the 2022 Vision Cup in mid-October as a member of a. 14-person North American team against an international squad from outside this continent, an event in which the players are certifiably blind.
The tournament is staged in a format that resembles the Ryder Cup, in which the United States’ best golfers square off against Europe’s elite players.
“This my fourth Vision Cup,” Port said. “It’s a biennial tournament like the Ryder Cup — once every two years. We’d never won the cup, so this was huge — really, really exciting. …
“Most of all, I was thrilled for our team. It’s a team sport all the way. It’s the team experience and the thrill of the whole team being so very happy. …
“That was so much fun and TPC Sawgrass was unbelievable. It was the best.”
In blind golf each player has a guide, who in contrast to a caddy, functions as the golfer’s eyes. The guide helps with shot alignment, strategy, club selection, trouble avoidance and other aspects, explained her husband, Fred Port, who serves as his wife’s guide.
Yet, he said, a skill in which Linda and other blind golfers excel is being able to read a green with their feet, an ability a golfer with eyesight does not usually cultivate.
“I tried,” he said. “My feet don’t read.”
Linda was an avid golfer until her vision deteriorated to the point when she had to give it up.
“I had normal, very good eyesight my whole life until I was in my mid-30s. … I went to an eye doctor and they diagnosed it as a genetic condition that my sister also has.”
Both their parents were blind, she said. After her parents married, they were reluctant to have a family because they were worried their children would inherit the condition, Port said.
“But they were given the OK by the doctors …,” Port said. “(The parents) said OK, we now know it’s not genetic. And then, two out of three of their kids ended up having it. …
“It was a hard thing when I had to tell them I had this diagnosis because it would be very shocking to them. But they were like, well, that mistake allowed me to be born.”
When Port was diagnosed, her physicians told her the condition was progressive. Over the years, they said, her sight would wane and she would lose her central vision as she got older though she might still have some blurred peripheral vision.
“That’s exactly what happened,” she said. “I’d say by 2013, my central vision was gone and it was very obvious to me. And then I started to think, wait a minute I don’t want to be blind. I didn’t want to tell anybody.”
In the preceding years, Port said, she coped with the gradual vision loss as best she could.
“You get better at being blind,” she said. “It’s a brain development issue. … A year would go by and I’d go, ‘Oh, just as I was getting good at that, now it’s worse.’”
Her fading vision began to be an issue on the golf course.
“It was embarrassing to play with people when you can’t find your own ball, but you have to tell them it’s because I’m different because I’m sort of blind. … You don’t want to slow people down. You just want to avoid the subject.”
Back on the fairway
She quit playing golf in the early 2000s and stayed off the course for about 10 years until she heard about blind golf. She joined the U.S. Blind Golf Association in 2014.
“It took me two years to decide to do it, because if you’re going to be playing in blind golf tournaments, you have to process that there’s something wrong with you. That’s a hard ego thing to get over.
“You have to confront your disability, and so far I had been hiding it pretty well. And I still hide it pretty well. I try to fake it.”
As demonstrated by her will to conquer her condition on the golf course, Port, with the support of her husband, has a penchant in the game of life for turning a bad lie into a birdie.
She and Fred want to share that gift through an organization they are developing called Blind Confidence for Kids. The goal is to bring golf instruction and play to schools for the blind around the country.
“The wonderful thing about golf for these kids is that it just opens the door,” Fred Port said. “It opens the door to opportunity and gives them a whole ‘nother aspect of their life, which for most blind children, is never available to them. It’s not that they can’t do it. It’s simply because the opportunity isn’t made available.
“So if the Blind Confidence for Kids program can be part of the catalyst to bringing this to normalcy where it becomes accepted that blind kids can play golf and they can make it part of their life, and they can grow with it being part of their life — that’s pretty exciting stuff.”
Those interested in learning about or getting involved with Blind Confidence for Kids can email [email protected]
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