by Rich O’Brien
Peter Alan Smith, also known as the Midnight Golfer, was born in Toronto, Canada, but he grew up in Puerto Rico, England and New Jersey. He attended Syracuse University where he was a member of the rugby and soccer teams. In 1985 he earned his BA in English with specializations in Technical Writing and Shakespeare. Shortly thereafter he began working for John Hancock Insurance in Boston and eventually became their Senior Trust Administrator. Along the way he earned an MBA from Harvard University with a 3.9 GPA.
In December of 2008 he moved to Charleston as a respite from the cold weather and used the considerable computer skills he had developed to be able to telecommute for his job with John Hancock. In 2010 he also began teaching a business and risk-insurance management class for the College of Charleston. His community service activities include being the Chairman of the S.C. Commission for the Blind and he is a member of Gavalas Kolanko Foundation which raises money for college scholarships for disabled students.
While still a teenager he began to experience problems with his own vision. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that gradually weakens vision as it attacks the light-sensitive rods and cones of the retina. As the disease progressed over the next decade he gradually descended into total blindness.
Rather than feeling sorry for himself, he decided early on that he was going to use sports to demonstrate how blind people can overcome obstacles. So as his sight deteriorated, he switched from team sports to tandem and individual sports. He began racing tandem bicycles and by the mid 1990’s he was a member of the United States Association of Blind Athletes and trained at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. With the help of his pilot to steer the bike, they would race up and down mountains and rocket around Velodromes. In 1995 they were the Masters National Silver Medalists for Tandem Velodrome for the Paralympics. He was also a member of the Nike Blind Running Team and completed two Boston Marathons.
The next challenge he took on was playing golf. He was invited to play golf by his friend Bill Boland. As the President of the Bank of Scotland his friend was often invited to play in charity tournaments. He absolutely loved the game, but unfortunately he was not very good. Thinking out of the box, Bill asked Peter to play with him as his teammate. This would allow him to enjoy the events by taking on the role of Peter’s sight coach and cart driver.
For a blind person, playing golf becomes a team game where they must rely on images created by their teammate. For every shot, the sight coach assists the player by describing the hole and by adjusting the blind golfer’s stance and alignment so that the club is pointed at the target. Then it is up to the player to hit the shot.
Peter has been able to work with a number of good instructors. Shortly after moving to Charleston he began playing with Rod Turnage who taught him how to hit a power fade. Rod is the son-in-law of Phil Blackwell, a six-time blind golf national champion. Currently, the midnight golfer is taking lessons from PGA master professional Boykin Powers of Charleston Municipal and Perry Green of Wescott Golf Club. In addition to lessons, he tries to practice and play at least once a week.
With the help of these outstanding coaches, Smith says his golf game has continued to improve. What really has improved in his opinion is his putting. Over time he has also developed the skill of being able to read the greens with his feet. His scores are currently in the mid 50’s for nine holes and about 110 for 18 holes. His goal is to eventually to break 100.
On the golf course, he feels comfortable with his game and, with help from his sight and swing coaches, he has choreographed a pre-shot routine that includes the swing thought: “Slow back, head down and follow through.” Playing the game with senses other than his sight, he truly relishes the feeling and the sound of a crisply hit shot as the ball leaves the club face. He also loves listening to the birds sing, the warmth of the sun and the feeling of a cool breeze on a beautiful day. He jokes that blind golfers do have one advantage, they aren’t afraid of hitting into hazards because they cannot see them. He says the game can be a great relaxer if one allows it to be.
The greatest challenge that he faces in all blind sport is recruiting and maintaining sighted guides. He would love to have three or four sight coaches to volunteer to help him.
One of the deciding factors of Smith moving to Charleston was the world class care available from the specialists at MUSC’s Storm Eye Institute. So each year, he enters Team Noseeums to participate in their fundraising tournaments. Next month, the 20th Annual Charleston Lions Golf Classic will be played at Bull’s Bay Golf Club on Tuesday, October 27th. All of the tournament’s proceeds will benefit the Storm Eye Institute. For more information, or to register for the tournament, contact Ashton Finley at 843-792-3040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The other annual tournament to benefit the Storm Eye Institute is held in the spring and is organized by the Charleston Riverdogs. The team’s co-owner Mike Veeck is a tireless promoter of the Storm Eye Institute because his daughter is blind. For information about how to get involved with the Storm Eye Institute and its’ events, visit http://www.muschealth.com/eyes/.
It is always good to have a coach that can mentor you when facing difficult challenges. Leading by example is a wonderful way to mentor others. Peter Alan Smith says, “I have always used athletics to demonstrate how blind people can overcome many obstacles. My intent has been to try and turn a burden into a life-affirming expression.” The Lowcountry is fortunate to have him mentoring others with blinding diseases and showing them that they can also overcome obstacles.
Includes a good video of Peter talking about his accomplishments.
Video of Full Swing
About the Author: Rich O’Brien writes a monthly Golf Therapy column for the Charleston Golf News about players who have overcome injuries, disabilities and challenges to play golf. He is also the co-author of the soon to be published book Half Paralyzed, Twice Strong. For more information visit: www.betterdaysbook.com.