Part 4: Victory!

By: Marcus King

Editor's Note: In his fourth and final installment, Marcus King writes about taking the American Special Olympics golf team to Shanghai last summer and how the trip was a success in more ways than one.

The opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China were spectacular! We awoke that morning, donned our red, white and blue Team USA outfits, and hopped on the decked-out tour buses to head for the stadium. It was a blistering hot and humid day - 95 degrees with 95% humidity - and our nylon suits stuck to us like glue, especially since we were also wearing a bucket hat to complete the ensemble. But the cool relief of the air-conditioned coaches was welcomed with a chorus of "ahhhhhhhhs." Our buses were escorted by Chinese police and, in fact, our entire 20-plus-mile route was controlled such that traffic stopped like we were in a presidential motorcade. We almost felt bad that we were inconveniencing the citizens with all of the security road closures, but we were buoyed by their flag-waving and effervescent friendliness along the route.

The opening ceremonies in the huge Olympic Stadium were something out of a fantasy. The lights, music, pageantry and sounds from the fans were unforgettable. We all swelled with pride as our Team USA strolled into the stadium and began waving. The cheers for our team reached a deafening pitch and it was quite an emotional moment for our athletes and coaches. Never have I been so proud to be an American or represent the United States as I was entering that stadium. We all soaked it up, took our spin around the track, and seated ourselves next to the Australians for a night of splendor. Many celebrities made presentations, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Colin Ferrell, and their speeches about Special Olympics were truly inspirational, reminding me of why I joined the organization.

The golf competition was held at Tianma Country Club, some 30 miles outside of Shanghai. The clubhouse was beautiful, the golf layout amazing, and the course conditioning immaculate. I have played some really good golf courses in my day, and this one ranked at the top. I met the pro and GM and we chatted for awhile about the prospects for golf in China. Both seemed to think that the future was very bright for such a bourgeois game. Even though the majority of players in China were foreigners, the game was starting to catch on with the upper-class levels and there were more and more signs of golf catching on throughout the populace. Golf in China will be big!

Our athletes assembled in a team tent each morning, awaiting the call to the tee, our caddies dutifully standing alongside the fleet of carts ready to roll. The caddies were young local girls ages 17 to 21, and all were well trained in the art of club selection and the finer points of caddying. The USGA representative on site had some big challenges on his hands, though, with the "caddie conflict." Since the club was unwilling to allow golfers on the course without one of their caddies, and so many athletes brought their own loopers, the rule regarding a player having only one caddie became a huge issue. Ultimately, the Special Olympics and USGA allowed players to have two caddies, but only one was allowed to give advice and wear the official bib. The arrangement was odd but it defused the situation.

Our golf athletes competed admirably, despite a typhoon ripping through the middle of the event. It was amazing how our athletes performed under such international pressure. Many of them shot personal-best scores on the very demanding layout - hopefully in testament to our preparation, and they all soaked up the flavors of the field, making new friends from different countries and admiring the customs and traditions of their opponents. An athlete from China scored a hole-in-one and the entire field celebrated the miraculous achievement. If there ever was a stage for international diplomacy, I would think that green grass and 18 holes would make for a lot of positive changes in the world.

Team USA was a fixture on the medal stand at the end of the competition. Our golfers went home draped in medals, grinning from ear to ear and savoring every moment spent in China. They had prepared for months, conquered the competition as well as the climate, and arrived home on American soil as international heroes. The Special Olympics World Summer Games returns to the roots of all Olympics in Athens in 2008, and you can bet a sweet birdie that all of us will be gunning for a return engagement of Team USA.

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.

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