William Miles stepped up to the tee, drew back his driver and swung mightily.
He had envisioned his ball flying majestically through the air, splitting the fairway. Instead, his club smacked into the ground a few inches behind the teed-up golf ball.
“That wasn’t a good shot,” he said. “I picked my head up.”
One of two blind golfers in the NGA Warrior Pro Challenge on Wednesday, Miles took all his swings – good and bad – in stride. The 64-year-old Columbus, Ga., resident has little eyesight but plenty of levity to keep his game in perspective.
An Army paratrooper who served two years in Vietnam, Miles said he developed glaucoma in 1986 because of Agent Orange. He can see images with peripheral vision, but he can’t describe them – especially when a ball is teed in the ground.
“When I look down, I have to look away and I see this little image down there,” said Miles, who received assistance throughout the round from NGA Tour pros Randall Hutchison and Justin Smith. “They tell me to move left or right to where I want to hit the ball.”
Miles and fellow blind participant Aaron Hale were among more than 70 Wounded Warriors who played in the fourth annual event, which began because title sponsor L.D. Waters, a Marine who fought in two wars, wanted to give back to service members.
“Every year, it just keeps getting better and better,” said NGA Tour Vice President Ryan Waters. “It just keeps growing.”
The nine-hole tournament, which helps kick off the Kandy Waters Memorial Classic – it runs today through Sunday at Mount Vintage in Edgefield County, S.C. – is popular with the professional golfers. Typically, one pro is paired with each group. Yet for the 15 pairings, there were 12 extra golfers who signed up.
“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be out here doing what we’re doing,” Hutchison said. “Seeing them and interacting with them makes us feel pretty good about what we’re doing here. We’re trying to do whatever we can to help them.”
Hale, a 34-year-old married father of four originally from Ohio, is in rehabilitation with Miles at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta. An Army explosive ordnance disposal specialist, Hale lost his sight to an improvised explosive device in December in Afghanistan. He cracked jokes about his golf game throughout the round, stating that his blindness hasn’t affected his playing ability.
At the par-5 seventh hole, Hale hit his second shot short and off to the right.
“You guys can lie to me. I can’t see it,” he said. “Oh, look. Eagle.”
Hale and Miles got around the course with helpers Rachel Hanson and Lauren Offarrell. Hutchison and Smith helped align the golfers and provided encouragement throughout.
One of the day’s highlights came at No. 8, when Miles almost drilled the group’s 15-foot birdie attempt, leaving the putt just short. For Hutchison and Smith, their highlights were just playing with the veterans.
“This puts those 5-footers, what we kind of stress about, in perspective,” Smith said. “It’s a very inspiring experience.”