Blind Israeli Golfer Is Quite the Stick

“I want every seeing person to have their legs shake with fear a little when they come play a round with me,” said Zohar Sharon wryly. Though he might have lost his eyesight, the 53-year-old Israeli has not lost his sense of humor, further describing himself as “the world’s greatest golf player at night.”

Thousands of blind people around the world play golf, but only a hundred or so play the game competitively. Since 2003, Sharon has won international blind golfers’ tournaments in Scotland, Australia, the United States and Canada. At the latter event, he garnered his first eagle at the Ontario Visually Impaired Golfer’s championship in August. On November 14, he made a hole-in-one on the 15th hole at the Caeserea Golf Club, the only 18-hole layout in Israel.

Sharon’s sight loss goes back 30 years while in the Israeli military. He was a sniper in a paratrooper unit when a fellow soldier accidentally sprayed a chemical in his face. His eyesight slowly eroded until he became completely blind at age 28. “Everything I had before fell apart,” he told Associated Press reporter Aron Heller. “All of a sudden you are nothing, a 3-year-old is more productive than you. You have to rebuild something from what is left. You have to understand what it is you want to do with your life.”

For Sharon, that means staying busy. Soon after going blind, he dove into painting and sculpting before becoming a physical therapist. When he was going through a divorce, his lawyer introduced him to golf. Since then, Sharon has excelled in the sport. Sharon has beaten quite a few sighted golfers as well as his conquests of other blind golfers.

Obviously, a visually impaired golfer can’t just show up at a golf course and head to the first tee without assistance. In Sharon’s case, he has quite a team. His swing coach is Ricardo Cordoba-Core, a sports psychologist from Bolivia who’s trained Sharon from the beginning. Focusing on coordinating the elements of the golf swing and teaching him to visualize shots, Cordoba didn’t let Sharon touch a golf club during their early lessons. Cordoba had him sweep the floor at home, using the broom as if it was a golf club. He tied Sharon’s arms to his body and made him swing with his hips. And when he finally gave him a club, Cordoba had Sharon only hit tiny coins.

Cordoba said Sharon’s handicap may be an advantage over sighted golfers. He said many golfers become nervous when facing bunkers, ponds and other hazards on the golf course. With Sharon, Cordoba said simply, “I don’t tell him about it.”

Accompanying Sharon on the golf course is his caddie, Shimshon Levi, a good friend who helped buoy his spirits during his darkest hours after turning blind. “Since then I am connected to his person, as if I am connected to him through an artery. I just love him deeply,” Sharon said of Levi.

As with the assistants for all completely sightless golfers, Levi’s role is to guide Sharon around the course, set his ball on a tee, hand him a club and describe the shot. When putting, Levi tells Sharon the distance and then runs to the hole and claps his hands to tell Sharon where to roll the ball.

Sharon also has a dedicated sight dog that was allowed to follow him around in his early golf rounds. But the overeager canine so enjoyed retrieving golf balls that he was spared further duty. Regardless, Sharon has a great team that helps him enjoy a sport he loves. “(Golf) doesn’t give me one minute to think about my situation,” he said.