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Hearing disability hasn't slowed down Hall

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MCCORMICK, S.C. --- Kevin Hall stood on the 18th tee feeling confident.

Pro golfer Kevin Hall, who is deaf, shows McCormick Middle School student Quameashia Blackmon how to grip the club.   Chris Gay/Staff
Chris Gay/Staff
Pro golfer Kevin Hall, who is deaf, shows McCormick Middle School student Quameashia Blackmon how to grip the club.

It was an 18-hole round with Tiger Woods two years ago. For 17 holes, Hall kept up with the world's No. 1 player. At the closing hole at Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, Fla., Hall offered his opponent a challenge: player with the lowest score on the par-4 wins $5. Hall said he felt good after striping a drive about 300 yards down the middle.

"Then Tiger teed it high and all of a sudden he took a rip at it," Hall said. "The ball went on and on and on over everything. He hit a flip wedge to the green and made birdie."

Woods asked for the $5, and Hall asked why he wanted the money from a poor golfer. Woods responded, "You're the one who brought up the bet."

It should come as little surprise Hall's mouth got him into trouble. At a Monday clinic as part of the Savannah Lakes Village Classic, he communicated with children from Long Cane Academy and McCormick Middle school with that contagious smile and his ever-moving hands and fingers. He spoke more than anyone at Monticello Golf Club, despite the obvious fact -- Hall cannot hear.

"He's the most talkative deaf person I've ever seen in my life," said Hall's mother, Jackie, who interpreted for him.

A hearing disability has yet to slow down someone who's made a name for himself on the golf course. In 2004, he posted a record-setting performance en route to winning the Big Ten championship. Two years later, the Ohio State alumnus played in his first PGA Tour event, the Memorial Tournament, held by fellow Buckeye Jack Nicklaus.

Now, Hall's on the NGA/Hooters Tour grinding it out like every other golfer. After missing the cut in the previous two events, Hall shot 68-67-68 to finish in third (one shot out of a playoff) at last weekend's Crystal Lake Open.

"It's like it is with a lot of golfers. It's between those ears," Jackie Hall said. "He's been struggling with the mental aspect, but it came together for him."

"When I was supposed to be competing, I was trying to find a game. And that's absolutely no fun at all," Kevin said. "When you're out there working, you've got to work with what you practice.

"My confidence is building. It was one good tournament. I need to keep it going."

Hall's parents, Jackie and Percy, attend almost every tournament. Percy, who's been looping for his son almost all his golfing life, will be carrying his bag this week. The Halls provide support on and off the course. On Monday, they used sign language to communicate with their son, who also reads lips.

Hall has very little residual hearing, Jackie said, and hearing aids help very little. The Halls have discussed cochlear implant surgery, but Kevin is against undergoing the procedure during his golf career.

The hearing loss has not affected Hall's personality. Armed with a gregarious personality and an easy laugh, he is one of the most approachable golfers on tour.

Jackie Hall said her son always has been full of joy. When he was a baby, Kevin would yell "Hey!" from his crib. When he heard someone walking toward his room his face would light up.

At age 2, Kevin came down with H flu meningitis -- his fever spiked, remaining in the 103-104 range for two weeks. Doctors told his parents if he lived he'd be a vegetable.

"We weren't taking any of that," Jackie said. "Hearing loss was a blessing. We figured we could deal with that. We worked really hard to give him as normal a life as possible."

Sports gave Hall an outlet. In his youth, he excelled at baseball, basketball, bowling and soccer. Jackie said he still holds a bowling average between 208 and 210.

Donald Barnes, a family friend and bowling partner, turned Hall onto golf at age 8. The first time he went to the range, Hall grabbed a driver and watched other people swing. He then hit his first drive 130 yards down the middle with a little draw. He was hooked.

"The thing about deaf people is they're very visual," he said. "So I tried to copy that."

Hall practiced for one year before competing in his club's championship. In his first event, he finished second.

"To us, that was a huge deal. It was just as good as winning, because he participated and played well," Jackie said.

Hall continued to progress and eventually accepted a scholarship from Ohio State, about two hours from his home in Cincinnati, because it offered disability services that met his needs. He graduated with a degree in journalism. In one class, he interviewed athletes by typing questions on his laptop or sending out e-mails.

One of Hall's finest golf moments came when he torched the field in the 2004 Big Ten championship. The tournament's final round was held on Mother's Day. one year after his grandmother -- Jackie's mom -- died. Hall said he wanted to win, because he knew his mother was thinking of her mother. Hall shot 66-65-68 for a tournament-record 14-under-par 199 and an 11-shot win.

"That was a special gift," she said.

"When I got to the tournament, I told my mother I was going to win this," he said. "I had complete control of my game. Everything was just clicking that week."

The 27-year-old Hall still is trying to replicate that success. Since 2006, he's won a pair of winter events on the Hooters Tour but is still seeking his first victory on the regular tour.

Hall is looking to make his first cut in his fourth appearance at Monticello. If he can solve the short par-4 opening hole, he'll be OK.

The past two years, he's hit wedge shots from 100 yards off the back of the green. The result? A quadruple-bogey 8 each time that's led to opening rounds of 79 and 76, respectively. Hall joked about employing a new strategy this year -- just picking up the ball and throwing it to the green, he said, laughing.

"That No. 1 drives me crazy," he said. "It all comes down to making a good decision on that hole and I'll be fine. I've played the other holes pretty well. There's just something about that hole."

Hall's success this week will come down to his short game, something he continues to refine in hopes of one day playing on the PGA Tour. Once there, he knows the first thing he will do.

"When I get on tour," Hall said, "I'm going to straight up to Tiger and say, 'Double or nothing.' "

Hooters Tour

WHAT: Savannah Lakes Village Classic,

WHERE: Monticello Golf Club, McCormick, S.C.

WHEN: Today-Sunday

DEFENDING CHAMPION : Matthew Harmon

Note: Harmon won last week's Crystal Lake Open in a playoff over Blake Peffley. Billy Hurley III leads the money list with almost $42,000.


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