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Deaf golfers stay focused on game, leave distractions out

August 1, 2007

As they lined up their 6-foot birdie attempt on the No. 8 green at The Rail Golf Course on Monday, the scramble foursome of Curtis Blankenburg, Bob Dramin, Mark Nagy and Bill Stricklen was focused completely on the task at hand.

The steady hammering at a nearby home under construction wasn’t even a minor annoyance as Blankenburg drained the putt.

Nine holes later, it looked like they were going to settle for a par on the difficult par-3 16th. But despite the roar of a jet that had just departed Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport and the shrill whistle of a railroad maintenance car rumbling by, Nagy calmly drained a long chip for birdie.

It’s easy to block out distractions when they fall literally upon deaf ears.

“That’s the best thing; just the quiet,” Dramin said Monday through his interpreter, Nagy, as they and 100 other men were tuning up for the 60th annual Midwest Deaf Golfers Association Tournament that begins its three-day run today at The Rail.

“You don’t hear the big lawn mower going by, or any of the other things that might bother other people. The hard part? You don’t hear if a ball’s coming at you and they’re yelling ‘Fore!’ We have to always be looking around. But (being conked by an errant shot) doesn’t happen very often.”

In addition to the 102 deaf or hearing-impaired men who’ll tee off with 7:30 a.m. shotgun starts today, Wednesday and Thursday, there are also about 20 women who’ll be playing in the 43rd annual Midwest Deaf Ladies Golf Association Tournament today through Thursday at The Oaks.

Monday’s scramble at The Rail, which featured foursomes representing various states, served as both practice round and informal team event. Dramin’s group teamed for a 14-under-par 58 that was punctuated by Stricklen’s long birdie putt on No. 18.

A foursome from Michigan had the second-best score Monday: a 8-under 63.

Stricklen lives in Springfield, while the other three in his foursome are from Jacksonville — home of the Illinois School for the Deaf. The 46-year-old Blankenburg, a native Texan and former Deaf Olympics pole vaulter, works at ISD as an aide for students who need special supervision.

Blankenburg is also the defending MDGA tourney champ, winning the title by 12 strokes last year in Gaylord, Mich. He expects tough challenges this week from John Rush of Colorado and last year’s runner-up, Darrell Hovinen of Michigan. Blankenburg has had several other top-five MDGA finishes over the years.

“I hope to get more competition this year,” Blankenburg said through Nagy, an ISD assistant track coach who is able to hear with hearing aids.

“I won pretty easily last year, but John Rush wasn’t there. I’m looking forward to competition with him and some others.”

Springfield’s Jim Danielson, who is taking part in his first MDGA tourney, said Blankenburg’s ability illustrates the competitive level that is at The Rail this week.

“I really believe, years ago, if Curtis had had a hearing (golf) coach who could have provided better communication and taught him the finer points of the game, I think he’d be on the professional level,” Danielson said. “He’s that good. He learned himself, just by observation.

“I think there’s a common misperception that the athletic level is lower just because you’re deaf. Golf’s really popular in the deaf community. These are good golfers out here, and I’m learning from them.”

Any golfer will tell you there is a certain amount of “feel” in hitting a golf shot, especially with the short game. Dramin said that aspect is heightened for a deaf player.

“You can’t hear it, but you love to feel that ‘whack!’ when you know the ball’s hit solidly,” Dramin said through Nagy. “It’s even more important for us to feel that and know it’s right on the sweet spot.”

Danielson normally uses hearing aids and also can lip-read and converse with hearing individuals. But he said he’d rather tune it all out when he’s on the golf course, especially this week.

“If I’m playing with a deaf group, I take my hearing aids off,” Danielson said. “I played (Sunday) with a hearing group, and there was a group on the next tee that was really loud. I had to take a step back.

“But this is nice. You don’t have to hear anything. Plus, the social part is a big part of golf. There’s a long history with a lot of people in this tournament, and there’s a comfort level here this week, with everyone being equal socially. I’d say ‘reunion’ is an appropriate word.”

Dave Kane can be reached at 788-1544 or dave.kane@sj-r.com. (Springfield State Journal Register, IL)

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