Thursday, January 9, 2014
Ricky Martin’s love of golf and ability to overcome challenges has caught the eye of the Golf Channel.
The national television network sent a crew to Wescott Golf Club last month to interview and get footage of Martin, an autistic teen who is a member of the Fort Dorchester High School golf team. The youth will be featured on an episode of In Play with Jimmy Roberts that focuses on autistic golfers and is expected to air in April.
Perry Green, who as director of instruction at Wescott, began working with Martin about four and a half years ago, says Golf Channel senior producer James Ponti called him after seeing an article about Martin in the Global Golf Post (http://digitalmag.globalgolfpost.com/20130930#&pageSet=12&page=0).
“Ponti has an autistic son and the story really resonated with him,” Green said. “He pitched the show to Jimmy Roberts and things took off from there. They are going to call us when they know the exact date it will air.”
Martin’s story is one of great success that holds several lessons.
“I admire the parents who look at their kids with disabilities and look past it, who say there is no reason why they can’t get out and do things they want to do especially if they can find someone who can help them,” Green said. “I’ve found people with disabilities don’t look for what they can’t do, they look for what they can do.”
That is certainly the case with Martin, who began gathering balls in the woods at the North Charleston golf course to raise money for lessons. Martin’s father began matching the money he raised and others around the golf course started pitching in so the youngster could take lessons.
Green was more than happy to provide them.
“We look at disabilities as being just a different type of abilities,” Green said. “We find something that works and we focus on that. To me working with people who have challenges is in a way more fun. It makes a slicing problem someone who doesn’t face those challenges seem small. Everything they do they work so hard at so the golf is just something else they work hard at so a lot of times they will pass people without a disability.”
Martin thrived under his tutelage.
“He started out just kind of flailing away but we shortened his club and through his perseverance he improved quickly,” Green said. “He works hard. He went from not being able to count strokes per hole to breaking 90 for 18 holes.”
Martin wanted to join the Fort Dorchester golf team and to Green’s delight he made the cut, no small feat considering the year he first went out for the JV squad the Patriot varsity was the defending Class AAAA state champion.
It seems the teen’s progress on the golf course can be attributed to the combination of his work ethic and Green’s style of instruction.
When Green was director of instruction for a five-course district in Illinois he taught an adaptive golf program for youth with physical challenges and a Sunshine Through Golf program for Special Olympic teens and other youth facing similar challenges so he had some experience helping golfers with unique obstacles. He applied what he learned there to Martin and then just used the process of trial and error.
“With Rickey you have to find things that click for him, which to some extent you have to do that with all golfers,” Green said. “We try several drills until we find one that clicks.”
For example, Martin’s swing when he first started was very vertical so Green started having him hit on a hill until it just came natural for him to bring it more behind him.
“I found when I worked with Ricky I had to be more prepared as a teacher,” Green said. “I had to be ready with options. I had to have different ways to express the same idea. In that way, it made me a better instructor.”
But once Martin got going he made a lot of progress. Green says in a way, the autism helped.
“With autism your world kind of closes in on you a little and the focus is narrow,” Green explained. “Well, that can be really advantageous in golf because you need to tune out things and focus on your golf. When I work with Ricky he really focuses on the drill we are doing.”
Autism impairs communication so some people with autism aren’t very social. Golf can help boost a person’s social skills and Green says he thinks it has helped Martin.
After he started taking lessons, Martin joined the club’s First Tee program that is designed partly to help youth improve their social skills. It wasn’t long before Martin began to shine in the program.
“The program teaches responsibility and respect,” Green said. “Participants learn how to walk up to someone, look them in the eye and repeat their name so they will remember it. I think it led to a big change with Ricky. He just absorbed the First Tee lessons and became the second person in Charleston to reach Eagle Level.”
For one First Tee fundraising project Martin set up a putt-a-thon that raised more money for the event than all the other participants combined. In August when the PGA was at the club the First Tee kids sold programs and Martin sold the most.