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Blind hole-in-one golfer embraces attention

CLEARWATER

If, as Andy Warhol once said, everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, then Leo Fiyalko might be wondering if his clock is broken. ¶ Fiyalko is the 92-year-old legally blind golfer who made a hole-in-one on Cove Cay Country Club's par-3 fifth hole on Jan. 10.

Since then, Fiyalko's feat has been celebrated around the world.

A story in the St. Petersburg Times led to local TV coverage, a mention in Sports Illustrated and calls from radio stations in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Mich., Phoenix, Pittsburgh and London.

There was even a call from producer's of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

"At first he really didn't want to talk about it,'' said Pat Fiyalko, 84, Leo's wife of 61 years. "But then I told him it's a story that people want to hear.''

The Fiyalkos declined a trip to Los Angeles because they thought the trip would be too taxing.

But television wasn't done with him yet.

A Japanese television station inquired about doing a segment for a national show called Ora no Izumi, or Fountain of Aura, on the Asahi network. The show features people who have overcome obstacles. A film crew shadowed the Fiyalkos for an entire day. When it's edited, it will be a five-minute segment on the hour-long show.

"It was a long day,'' Leo Fiyalko said. "We thought it was going to be an hour or two, but it was more like nine or 10 hours. They were at the house, the club, the golf course. It was tiring.

"But the way I look at it, it's good for the club. It gives a little publicity to the club and the Twilighters group. That's my purpose, I guess.''

The Twilighters is Fiyalko's regular Thursday afternoon nine-hole golf group. On Jan. 10, his first shot of the day, a five-iron, landed on the front of the green and rolled into the cup. It was his first hole-in-one in more than 60 years on the links.

"It was a lucky shot,'' Fiyalko said.

That's the kind of luck Yasmine Yoshida likes to feature.

Yoshida is a filming coordinator for Duo Communications in San Francisco, which represents the Asahi network in the U.S. She said she saw the story and thought it would be perfect for the show. It is supposed to run sometime in mid April in Japan.

"We just thought it was really an amazing story,'' Yoshida said. "Not only because of the hole in one, but because of his age and his blindness. It's kind of an amazing miracle.''

Fiyalko has suffered from macular degeneration for about 10 years. He has no vision in his left eye and can use only his peripheral vision in his right eye, forcing him to sit sideways to watch television. Macular degeneration happens mainly to those 65 and older and is a deterioration of the eye muscles.

Another near-miracle has occurred since the hole-in-one. After shunning the limelight at first, Fiyalko has warmed to the attention.

"It's really kept him going,'' daughter Sandra Taylor said. "He's had an extra bounce in his step.''

Fiyalko still plays once a week with the Twilighters. He said he's not playing very well right now. And no, he hasn't come close to another hole-in-one.

But even at 92, Fiyalko has learned something. He admitted to being a little reluctant to talk about the shot for the first few weeks. Now he knows it is inspirational, and he's embraced it.

"My wife told me that the reason people are calling is because it's a good story and they want to tell it,'' said Fiyalko, who owned an insurance agency and, as a younger man, worked in a steel mill. "She said those guys are working for a living. Answer any phone call you get. Now I don't turn anyone down. I'll give them all the information they need.''

Blind hole-in-one golfer embraces attention 04/05/08 [Last modified: Saturday, April 5, 2008 2:53pm]
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