NEW PORT RICHEY
Donny Alston's first artificial leg weighed 18 pounds.
But in the 28 years since he suffered a training accident while in the Army, prosthetics have advanced considerably. Now he has extra legs for different occasions, whether running or swimming.
Alston, 46, always has been a good athlete, but golf is his main game. And if things go according to plan, he might be making a bit of history.
For the next four years, Alston will train for the Champions Tour. He would be the first amputee player ever on any professional tour.
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For years, Alston has been a fixture at Fox Hollow Golf Club in Trinity. Everyone knows him and admires his game.
Recently, former PGA Tour player Brad Bryant sought Alston out at the Birdies for the Brave charity event at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz. Bryant now plays on the Champions Tour and wanted to sponsor Alston. Bryant saw talent, a possibility of something special. Bryant said he wants to inspire other veterans, whether physically disabled or not, to follow their dreams after their military careers.
"I really don't want to put odds on it," said Bryant, who turned pro in 1976, "because it's a real long shot, but when I first met him and watched him swing a golf club, I said, 'Well, that's really something. He has a lot of talent.' He has a lot natural ability with the way he swings and how he controls the ball.
"I'm hoping Donny will be successful just because it would be an unbelievable story."
Alston has been playing golf since he was 5. He joined the Army at 18 in Tampa and thought he was on the way overseas when he was injured. He left leg was removed just below the knee.
"When I got hurt, I didn't think I could be a soldier or a golfer," he said. "I didn't really have a desire to be either. I never thought I would play again. I thought I would be awful at it and I don't like being awful at anything."
He worked long and hard on his game — and eventually he adjusted to the prosthetics. The leg is held on by suction, and perspiration causes Alston's skin to chafe. So while playing rounds, he has to take it off because he can blister. He carries a first aid kit to care for lesions that sometimes appear.
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When Alston learned he might have a chance to play on the Champions Tour once he turns 50, he came home excited to tell his wife, Angie.
"I was surprised when Donny told me about it," she said. "Donny was into it and wanted to do it (from the) very beginning. He tried to feel me out about it, to see if I would go for it, but I was never going to say no."
They've been married for 18 years. She is a Web designer.
"He's always been a golfer and he's always been an amputee,'' she said. "I don't know him any other way."
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Making the Champions Tour is something else for Donny to prove, but he has his work cut out. Right now, he has a plus 4 handicap. It needs to be about a plus 2, but thanks to Bryant and others, he has a contract with Adams Golf, which supplies him with equipment.
Donny practices up to three times a week. He works at the David Leadbetter camp to refine his game. He'll put in more than eight hours a day of ball striking and putting. The rest of his free time he juggles between Angie and playing at Fox Hollow.
He realizes this is his chance after missing out early in life. He won't say he's under pressure, but he embraces the risk ahead of him.
"If I can't do it now, it's on me," he said. "They've pretty much done everything they can do for me to succeed. This really is my chance to do something I've wanted to do since I was 10. To be a golf pro."
Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 544-1771.