Golf: The demanding art of playing through another pair of eyes: Mike Rowbottom reports from the British Blind Open, where golf is a matter of teamwork

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The Independent Online
YOU might not think there are any advantages in being a blind golfer. But the 48 souls who completed the Cellnet British Blind Open in brutal wind and rain yesterday will happily identify one.

If you hole a putt, you are brilliant. If you miss it, then it is your guide's fault.

Golf is an individual sport, but in these circumstances it is a team effort. Each player on the course at the Gloucester Golf and Country Club, situated on the edge of the Cotswold Hills, was partnered by someone who could see and - crucially - calculate distance.

Derrick Sheridan, a partially sighted 50-year-old who manages four Job Centres in the Reading area, has had his wife Matt as his guide since he took up the sport 15 years ago.

'Most club golfers wouldn't think about yardage,' Sheridan said. 'They will look at something and say 'I need a wedge', or 'I need a four-iron'. But for us, yardage is essential.'

Sheridan's tee shot at the fourth soars into the sky. 'I knew that was a good shot,' he said. 'I could tell it from my body position at the end of the swing.'

A sweet tee shot is a lovely thing; but best of all is a sweet putt. 'I can see some of the shorter putts,' Sheridan said. 'But I tend to wait until I hear the ball hitting the bottom of the cup. That's the greatest thing, the certainty.'

Inevitably, there are also moments of frustration for both parties. 'It is very difficult when he is playing badly,' says Matt, a 19- handicap golfer in her own right. 'Knowing there is nothing you can do to fix it for him.'

Sheridan has hit his second shot at the fourth. 'How far left is it?' he asks. 'Between 10 and 11 o'clock,' she says.

'Decent distance from the pin?'

'You are still on for a four.'

'I should be OK.'

The approach shot is good. Husband and wife pace from ball to hole and back again. Sheridan holes out. 'Yeah]' he exclaims. 'I have just parred the most difficult hole on the course.'

Sheridan, who finished joint second on 161, is playing alongside Steve Ford, who lost all sight 30 years ago. Ford's guide is Geoff Morris, an occasional golfer. 'I enjoy playing, but I get more from guiding Steve,' Morris said.

Totally blind players require the club to be placed just behind the ball. They also have to be correctly aligned. 'When you are ready,' Morris says as Ford prepares to putt. 'Eight paces?' says Ford. 'That's a lovely putt. Get in]'

Dick Walker, a 67-year-old who led into the second day with a score which matched his age, fell away to finish eight shots behind the winner, Tony Heggarty, a 33- year-old physiotherapist from Dulwich.

'My satisfaction lies in the feeling I get from hitting the ball correctly,' said Walker, who played off seven before the car accident 10 years ago which left him totally blind. 'That and the ooos and ahhhs of the crowd.'

He was jesting, of course. But the guide - his son Bruce - was doing his level best to oblige.

(Photograph omitted)

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