ODESSA — Tony Schiros loved to golf. He loved it so much, he vowed someday he would live on the Silver Dollar Golf Course in Odessa, where he had been playing for decades.
In 2007, Schiros sold his mattress business and realized his dream. He moved into a double-wide mobile home between the third and fourth holes.
But three months after moving in, Schiros went blind.
The golf course went dark; his golf clubs collected dust.
It would be two years before Schiros picked up a golf club again.
Today, Schiros 65, will compete in the United States Blind Golf Association's 67th Annual National Championship on Long Island, N.Y., which showcases the best blind and visually impaired golfers in the country.
At the Silver Dollar, he is an inspiration to other golfers. At the Middle Bay Country Club in New York, he hopes to spread his message that despite his blindness, "life goes on."
"On the golf course, it's like I can see at times," Schiros said. "I'd like to get more involved locally and get more people involved who can't see."
• • •
Blind golfers have been playing in tournaments for almost 70 years. Many who first learn about golf for the blind immediately ask: How?
It's a true partnership game, said David Meador, president of the USBGA and a two-time national blind golf champion.
Each golfer pairs up with a "coach." The coaches are also known as caddies, assistants or guides.
The coach lines the golfer up to the ball, points the shaft of the club to the target at waist level. The coach then aligns the golfer by guiding the golfer's hands and sets the club behind the ball. The coach also tells the golfer how far the ball needs to travel, and whether there are any obstacles in the way. The entire process takes about 30 seconds. The coach steps back and the golfer takes a swing.
While it feels great to connect with the ball, the experience is so much more, Meador said.
"The birds chirping, the wind coming across the face, the fragrance of the golf course, the expansiveness of it. … You can hear the ball land in the distance," he said. "Life offers opportunities we wouldn't have expected. There's not a blind golfer out there who wasn't shocked out of his mind to hear he could play the game again."
Among the 60 members of the USBGA, which includes a handful of women, most have had sight at one point in their lives. Others were born blind or lost their vision shortly after birth. For the ones with some vision, their sight, at best, is 20-200 with correction.
Schiros has battled vision problems most his life. When he was 6, a bully punched his right eye, causing him to lose sight in it. When he was 29, a freak accident involving a firecracker during a Fourth of July party destroyed his cornea. He underwent a number of cornea transplants over the next few decades.
Then, shortly after moving into the golf course community, the retina in his left eye detached, robbing him of his sight completely.
But with help from Ron Spears, a longtime friend, and Bobby Capobianco, the golf professional at the Silver Dollar Golf Course, Schiros played again. He plays in a weekly Wednesday afternoon scramble with the same group of buddies. This past April, Schiros, with Spears as his coach, took second place in his first USBGA event in Green Valley, Ariz.
• • •
Schiros, who sported an impressive 2 handicap before he went blind, said he has a better swing now that he can't see. He now relies on feel, rather than technique.
The 25 golfers who qualified for the tournament will compete in one of three categories: totally blind (B-1); little usable vision (B-2); and better usable vision (B-3). To be eligible to compete on the national level, a blind golfer must have scored 125 or less (B-1), 110 or less (B-2) or 100 or less (B-3) in three qualified rounds of golf.
Capobianco, who will serve as Schiro's "eyes" at the tournament, knew Schiros before he lost his sight and said other golfers are always impressed when they see him play.
"He hits a lot of good shots, he's a good putter," Capobianco said. "He's amazing. But the most amazing part is he keeps playing. He hasn't given up. That's the most inspirational thing."