Chasing down a dream
Deaf golfer Kevin Hall inspires peers with first TOUR start in 11 years
February 16, 2017
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- Kevin Hall took a moment to himself prior to teeing off in Round 1 of the Genesis Open. (Ben Everill/PGA TOUR)
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Moments before he headed to the iconic first tee at Riviera Country Club, Kevin Hall walked to the edge of the cliff on the putting green overlooking the historic layout, and needed a moment to himself.
For the hearing-impaired golfer, the reality of his first start on the PGA TOUR in almost 11 years was sinking in. His nerves “were all over the place.”
And how could you blame him.
While every player who gets to tee it up on the TOUR has worked hard to be there, Hall has battled harder than most.
Now 34 years old, Hall lost his hearing prior to his third birthday due to H-flu meningitis. While he carved out a successful college career at Ohio State University, his professional career has been predominantly on the mini-tours.
He played twice on the big stage in 2005, three times in 2006, and did not have another opportunity until Thursday.
“I stood over there and just looked over the course and could not believe I am here playing with the best players in the world,” said Hall, through his proud father Percy, who translated from sign language.
“I had to take that moment. My nerves and emotions were all over the place. But I expected that. I have been out of tournament golf for a while so while I had nerves, I was confident.”
Hall is in the field via the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption, which gives a golfer representing a minority background a start at the Genesis Open each year.
The well-wishers prior to his round were plentiful, offering hugs, high-fives and of course waving their hands in the air, the sign for applause. One family friend couldn’t hold back the tears.
His mother Jackie leaned in with some last-minute encouragement, signing “You’ve got this, you’re prepared.”
Hall even found time to joke with an official who was checking clubs on the first tee wearing a Michigan jacket, taking his Ohio State head cover off and playfully pushing it in his chest.
His reality check came quickly. After his tee shot went left, he scrambled for a decent par on the par-5 first hole, while both playing partners J.T. Poston and Kevin Dougherty made eagle.
Welcome back indeed.
Hall went on to shoot an 8-over 79 to open his round, but the score seemed insignificant to his reasonably healthy, adoring gallery.
While frustrated at times, Hall mostly had a wide grin on his face. One that belies someone who has faced the struggles he has.
“Kevin was born happy,” mom Jackie says.
“To do what he does day in and day out and never allow his hearing loss to stop him or make him feel any less than anyone else just amazes me.
“Just to walk around a golf course good, bad or indifferent, he’s happy. As long as he’s doing the best he can do that’s all his dad and I ask for.
“We are so thankful for this opportunity and to be tied to Mr. Sifford, who was a great man who paved so many roads for minority golfers, is just wonderful. To be affiliated with the Advocate Pro Tour who give minority golfers an opportunity to go out and play and hone in their skills and stay in a competitive mode is just awesome.”
While there are disadvantages to playing golf without the ability to hear, on occasion it worked in Hall’s favor also.
“He has better peripheral vision than most, so movement from the crowds can be an issue, but of course he can’t hear them so that can be a good thing,” close friend and caddie Neal Grusczynski said.
In fact, Hall had a long-range birdie putt on the fourth hole and was completely unaware of two nearby birds having a very loud screaming match in the trees.
While the galleries and other players couldn’t help but look to the skies, Hall sent his putt on its way. Later in the round he hit a lovely chip shot while a military helicopter thundered through the area.
The words “Visualize” and “Commit” are branded on wristbands he wears as, not surprisingly, he relies heavily on seeing shots both physically and mentally for his feedback.
While most of us love that unmistakable sound of hitting a ball flush out of the middle, his mom insists he can feel how pure a shot is with his heart.
When he made his first and only birdie on the 11th hole, the wide smile returned.
“Relief,” he said when asked of his emotions at that moment.
“I didn’t want a scorecard with no birdies.”
Kevin Hall thrilled to play before Genesis Open
One might expect trouble trying to converse with his caddie in real-time, but the communication with Grusczynski was also seemingly flawless. The pair met back during college when Grusczynski played for Xavier University and Hall was at Ohio State, and immediately hit it off.
“We were paired together in an event and on one hole we had the same putt and did paper, rock, scissors to see who would putt first,” Grusczynski said.
“I lost and then I lipped out the putt. He made his and ended up playing really well and won his first tournament. We’ve been friends ever since.”
After his day wrapped up, Hall was already looking forward to his second round, where he hopes to learn from some of his mistakes.
“I am a little disappointed but I hit some good shots today, and I have some good things to take away, and some good things to build on,” he said.
“It was a good experience and while I am a little disappointed with my score, I know I’ll bounce back. I’m looking forward to it.”
Poston couldn’t help but be inspired in Hall's presence and tried to feed off the sign language he saw in the galleries to show his appreciation towards good shots. After the round, he didn’t hold back in his praise.
“He’s definitely an inspiration. It's really cool to see somebody like that persevere and go out and chase his dream like everybody else,” Poston said after shooting an impressive 5-under 66.
“I think it's awesome he's got a shot this week.”
Here’s hoping he gets plenty more opportunities in the future. As Hall’s father pointed out while walking tall and proud around Riviera, it is sometimes about much more than the scorecard.
“It’s not just about him. He’s helping someone else by being here. There are parents of kids and kids themselves with some form of challenge that can see this and realize it is possible,” Percy said.
“And if he inspires one more person who needs a little lift, then that’s a blessing.”