ODESSA – All Tony Schiros ever wanted to do was play golf. He wanted to play when he was a kid and still wants to play today.
At 67, he enjoys the game on his home course, Silver Dollar. His favorite sound? That special rattle that all golfers know – when the ball swims in the cup. He soaks in the nature around him, the cool breezes, and enjoys the competition on the course. And, by honing his craft all this years, he’s become so good at the game that he is playing for a national title during a five day tournament starting Aug. 17 in the Portland suburb of Oregon City, Ore.
By the way, Tony Schiros is blind.
Schiros started the game sighted. A detached retina when he was 11 – the result of being punched by an older kid – left Schiros with one working eye.
It was 14 years later when a Fourth of July fireworks mishap took the use of his other eye. He underwent a number of cornea replacements over the years, only to suffer a final detachment a few years ago.
Schiros had every reason to give up the game he loved. For awhile, he did.
But the realization that, sight or not, he still had a life to live inspired him to take up the game again. He couldn’t see – but knew that feel is the key to golf. He knew that some of the best putters in the game practice in the dark. Over time, Schiros learned that, despite his disability, he still can play the game.
“I can win this tournament and I expect to,” Schiros said about the U.S. Blind Open Championship of the United States Blind Golf Association. “There are golfers from all over the world, but I can win this thing.”
The golfers won’t be alone on the course. Call them caddies, assistants or guides, but each player will have someone aligning him or her for each shot, whether it be explaining the breaks on the green or to hit a fade or a draw. To a regular golfer, it sounds complicated, but to Schiros’ assistant, Rich Gassner, it is just a great partnership. Both joke often and enjoy the caddie-player relationship.
“I told him I wanted to be his eyes,” Gassner said. “We are going shoot some low numbers in Portland.”
The numbers weren’t so low when Schiros decided to get back onto the course. His first round was a 116. Later, a somewhat successful cornea transplant brought back some of his eyesight, only to have they transplant fail. However, he is not bitter.
“I feel blessed after all that happened,” Schiros said. “I have a relationship with God and this is what he wanted. I used to get angry when I would hit a bad shot, but now I just thank the Lord for giving me a chance to keep playing. The two most important things in my life are joy and peace, and I have both.”
One the course, his game begins with him being aligned by his caddie. Once the alignment is correct, Schiros feels he can putt as well as anyone and fears no sand trap. As long as he is aligned, his feel for the golf club has nothing to do with his lack of vision.
And that vision extends to raising awareness for the United States Blind Golf Association (USBGA). He is in discussion with First Tee of Tampa Bay to help raise funds for the USBGA can start to get the attention he says it deserves.
“We can still play,” Schiros said. “There’s not a lot of hope for me, but I am going to keep playing. It won’t stop me. You might see some kind of miracle to give me my eyesight back, but I am not struggling. I trust life and don’t fight it. And I expect to win in Oregon.”
For information on the United States Blind Golfers Association, check the website at www.usblindgolf.com.