Part 3: The High Road to China Begins - Training Camp at Vanderbilt University

By: Marcus King

Editor's Note: In this installment by Marcus King, a PGA professional who's now the general manager of Sand Point Country Club in Seattle, Marcus describes taking his team to Nashville and the Special Olympics training came. He writes about finding out how his golfers will adjust to Tennessee's hot and humid weather, a precursor to the conditions in China, site of the 2007 Special Olympics World Games.

The "Team of Destiny" dominated the 2006 Summer Games. The athletes performed not only well, but consistently, which was our ultimate goal. We had taught them the skills to succeed as well as the skills to cope with the inevitable momentary failures inherent in the game of golf. They really bought into the whole aspect of golf being a "game of managed mis-hits," and their behavior reflected our team philosophy: "Gracious in victory as well as defeat."

As well as they performed, none of our Fairwood Flyer athletes were selected for the World Games in Shanghai. The selection process is far more random than simply taking all of the gold medal winners and assigning them to Team USA. Other factors come into play such as attitude, ability to travel long distances, and ability to be away from home for an extended period of time, and I'm sure there are some other variables to which I was not privy. The committee should have also added in the "ability to withstand tofu and warm soda," but that is another story.

Team USA was selected and I was assigned two athletes from Washington and two from Oregon: a 40-year-old woman from Spokane and a 38-year-old man from Redmond, just outside of Seattle. A third athlete, a 40-year-old man Medford, Ore., and his male 55-year-old unified partner, filled out my foursome. Unified partners are non-intellectually challenged players who, with the intellectually challenged athlete, form an "alternate-shot" team.

Our Northwest delegation was ready for the Training Camp, to be conducted July 11-15, 2007 at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. They picked the warm summer months not just because of dorm availability, but also to observe if the athletes could withstand the heat and humidity they would be facing in Shanghai, as well as the behavioral changes that can accompany such difficult conditions. In looking back, the selection of Nashville was a stroke of genius since we did ultimately face temperatures in the mid-90s and mid-90s humidity.

We met the rest of the Washington State delegation - two power lifters, two cyclists, two track and field athletes, two swimmers, my two golfers, and an aquatics coach - for a going-away party at the Hampton Inn in Tukwila, near SeaTac Airport. We celebrated together, shared our concerns about traveling to China, and went through an orientation conducted by SOWA - Special Olympics Washington - before waking up at 2:00 a.m. to begin our training camp odyssey. Our send-off was a lot of fun and it was amazing to see how many dignitaries attended.

The training camp experience was everything we expected: hot and humid weather, dorm food, lots of patriotic fervor, great golf courses, and celebrities and sponsors joining us in preparing our athletes for the next big step. There was media everywhere, and it became clear to me that this whole China trip was going to be one big media event as there were cameras all over the place, documenting our every step on behalf of Special Olympics. Along the way, we assessed our athletes' fitness for not only travel, but for walking five rounds of golf in six days which, given the anticipated conditions, was a concern of our coaching staff.

The other golf coaches - all eight from around the United States - were really great. We all had a common bond of handling the special needs population with empathy, caring and respect, and it was amazing watching and learning how they made individual connections with each athlete. I was the rookie of the group and only PGA professional, so the tasks of golf-swing instruction, strategy and Rules of Golf orientation were my responsibilities. As we traveled to each golf facility, I took advantage of the captive audience on the air-conditioned bus to teach the rules of golf, strategy and some golf-swing tidbits. I pounded home consistent, simple themes that the athletes ate up like a bowl of Fruit Loops. I made a good connection with both the athletes and the coaches with such tough topics, and for that I was truly grateful.

The last leg of our training camp was the "goodbye and good luck" banquet. Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton was the emcee while country star Jo Dee Messina plied us with her beautiful voice and positive messages. She was the hit of training camp and the local music stores sold out of her CDs by the end of camp. The Team USA uniform fashion show ignited a fervent, patriotic flame of red, white and blue and left every athlete and coach in a fever pitch - with a tear in their collective eyes - ready to take on the world. Our Northwest delegation headed back to Washington and Oregon to work on their golf games and prepare themselves physically, emotionally and mentally for the golf competition at Tianma Country Club in Shanghai, China.

PGA member Marcus King lives in North Bend, Wash., and is the proud father of two teenagers. He currently serves as the President of the Western Washington PGA and as a Director on the Pacific Northwest PGA Board. Marcus caddied throughout his childhood at Seattle Golf Club and earned an Evans Scholarship to the University of Washington, where he graduated in 1986 with a degree in Political Science. He has served as a golf professional at Inglewood Golf Club, West Seattle Golf Course, Jefferson Park Golf Course, Jackson Park Golf Course, the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge, Wolf Creek Resort in Utah, Fairwood Golf & Country Club, and now serves the membership at Sand Point Country Club as the General Manager. Marcus has extensive community outreach experience including the American Cancer Society, Children's Hospital and Medical Center, Metro Citizen's Advisory Board, King County Superior Court Diversion Program, and the PGA's Golf in Schools and Inner City Youth programs. Marcus conducted a highly successful junior golf program at Jackson Park Golf Course and has been a junior golf advocate for over 20 years. His current passion is with the Special Olympics golf program and he recently completed service as the PGA Coach to the United States Special Olympics Golf Team that competed in Shanghai, China for the Special Olympics World Games. He trains the Washington State Special Olympics golf coaches and is currently re-writing the golf instruction manual using a new methodology. During the holidays, Marcus also serves as a volunteer Santa Claus.