tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Wednesday, Aug 23, 2017

Autism can’t slow teenage golfer in Lutz tournament

LUTZ – Some people say that finishing second only means being the best loser.

Not in this case. Not even close. Austin Schoon, 15, has proven that a person can be a winner no matter what the results.

Last month, Austin finished second at the Mini-Masters at the Lutz Executive Golf Center. He parred seven of the nine holes. He is determined that next time, he’ll win.

Austin has autism.

Often, autistic children can have a tough time in public schools. Bullies were the root cause for Austin not only changing schools three times but also causing a severe eating disorder. He has been to the emergency room twice due to bullies, including an incident involving Austin’s other favorite sport, basketball.

Austin now attends the Focus Academy, a charter school for students with learning disabilities. He has made friends, and he wants a chance to play on the PGA Tour one day. He’s come a long way and Beth Kaufman, owner of the Lutz course, said he is an inspiration to everyone there.

“You have just got to meet Austin,” Kaufman said. “He has been through so much and, after changing schools because of the bullying, he could have quit, but there has never been anything I’ve seen like the look he had at the Mini-Masters. He was so proud of himself.”

Austin has known he is a bit different his entire life. He never knew why other kids were picking on him and he was confused. Sometimes he’d get angry, other times he’d get sad in front of the other kids – which made things only worse. One of the worst incidents was when he was pushed so hard that he broke his tailbone when other kids jumped on him.

Austin has no problem discussing it. He has found happiness at his new school and in his new hobby of golf.

“I used to always get upset,” Austin said. “I always remember the way they picked on me, and I was always getting hurt. But you know what? I always kept trying.”

He and his parents heard about the golf camp in Lutz and he decided that golf was something he might enjoy. He’s spent the past two years getting his game together as well as his confidence. Finishing second at the Mini-Masters was a big deal, not just to him, but to his parents.

“He is having so much fun,” said his mother, Beth. “He has goals now. He wants to play high school golf at a regular school. He is so changed now.”

Austin reads at a fourth-grade level, but he is articulate and excited to answer any question. He’s not shy about his autism and is candid when it comes to talking about it. He gets sad sometimes, and he said he has a bit of a trigger temper, but that’s another area where golf comes in handy.

“When I am playing golf I can let my anger out by hitting a golf ball,” Austin said. “I hit it straight and when I don’t I can get mad, but then I think about hitting my next shot and the anger goes away.”

Austin has a swing a lot of players at any level would pay money to learn. His backswing could be the envy of anyone who plays the game. Every swing is the same and his follow-through is like something out of the Golf Channel. He said chipping is the best part of his game.

He knows his limitations, but he still wants to be the next Tiger Woods. That’s a long shot for anyone, but Austin just smiles and said he knows he can do it. He has learned a lot about overcoming adversity, so there’s no reason to doubt any of his dreams.

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