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Golf: Eat your heart out, Padraig

By Peter Hutcheon

Ulster golf may be celebrating having two players on the Walker Cup team, but in Cullybackey's Sam Smith we have a TREBLE British champion.

The 64-year-old Smith annihilated a field of players from all over the world last week to win the British Blind Open at Fulford to equal Padraig Harrington's feat of winning the British Open.

He beat players from America, Japan, Canada, Sweden and from all over the United Kingdom by a staggering 11 shots to take the title he first won in 2003 for a third time.

The 28-handicapper shot two nett rounds of 66 to win on the Fulford course made famous by Bernhard Langer playing a shot out of a tree.

"I didn't have a clue how far I was in front so it was a bit of a surprise," he said.

"But I have never been more nervous because there seemed to be a lot more people around than when I had played this in the past."

Smith, a member at Galgorm Castle, plays with regular guide Bob Espie - himself a nine-time Irish boxing champion from the sixties and early seventies - twice a week.

But his guide at Fulford was Ballymena man Bertie McDowell.

"The only difference between blind golf and sighted golf is that you can ground your club in a bunker or hazard," explained Sam.

"Apart from that it is exactly the same, the yardages, everything. Your guide lines you up in the direction you want to hit the ball and talks about yardages and club selection.

"On the greens he lines up the putt and what distance it is."

Smith came close to making it a double success when he finished runner-up by just a couple of shots in the British Masters, the other main event on the blind golfing calendar.

He was a regular golfer playing off a handicap of 11 up until around 1990 when he was forced to give up the game because of his failing eyesight.

"Then a welfare officer was asking me what hobbies I had and I mentioned that I used to play golf," he recalls.

"He told me about blind golf and I'd never heard of it, but decided to give it a go and that was in 2002."

Within a year he was celebrating becoming the British champion when he won his first title at West Essex.

Then the following year he retained it by winning at Balbirnie in Scotland by a shot after coming through the field on the final day after lying in 15th place after the first round.

Although he didn't mange to win in either of the next two years, he became the first man to win the title a third time with his incredible success at Fulford last week.

Belfast Telegraph

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