ST. PETERSBURG — After finishing her college career this spring, Ryanne Jackson thought she’d ignore her golf clubs in the garage for a while.
In December, though, the USGA announced it would host the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open from July 18-20 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Seven months later, she was playing in the final pairing of the 54-hole tournament on the club’s No. 6 course.
Jackson, 24, has scapuloperoneal muscular dystrophy. Also known as scapuloperoneal myopathy, the rare genetic disorder is characterized by the wasting of muscles, particularly around the shoulder blade and below the knee.
She struggles to lift her arms over her head. She has no dorsiflexion (backward bending and contracting) in her ankles, making walking laborious.
Her handicap? Just a 3.7.
Jackson, a Seminole native and St. Petersburg resident, finished second on the women’s side after shooting 80 each round for a three-day score of 24-over 240. She finished eight shots behind Western Michigan women’s head coach Kim Moore and seventeen ahead of third-place Mandi Sedlak.
She said the tournament “reignited” her passion for golf.
“I think being around people who have a better understanding of what I’ve had to go through with my disability gives me more of (an) appreciation for golf,” Jackson said. “If I can get more involved in the adaptive golf community, I think that that would be beneficial for me.”
Jackson was named second-team All-Tampa Bay by the Times in 2015 as a senior at Northside Christian School, where her father, DJ, is the girl’s head coach. Later, she learned that walking and carrying her bag was itself a remarkable accomplishment.
Her favorite sport growing up, though, was basketball, which DJ also coached. Jackson wasn’t fast in transition or off the dribble, she said, but knew where to be on the court. She made 263 3-pointers during her career, a school record and one of her proudest accomplishments.
DJ, who played at LaGrange College in Georgia, said Jackson could do a little bit of everything.
“It was fun to watch, and then sometimes it was agonizing all at the same time because you would never know if she was going to get hit,” said DJ, who switched from coaching high school boys so he could make Jackson’s older sisters’ games. “She would just go tumbling down if she just got off balance.”
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Accusations about her effort also hurt. During one huddle, an exchange student on the team asked why Jackson was “so lazy.” Through it all, Jackson was grateful to have DJ on the sideline.
“I was giving it my best, but it just didn’t look the way that everyone wanted it to look,” she said. “So I think if I played for someone else, I don’t think I would have been as successful as I was.”
DJ knew something was wrong, but it took five years — during Jackson’s freshman year of college — to get a diagnosis. He wanted to get Jackson into the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, but it wouldn’t take the family’s insurance. Her pediatrician suggested genetic testing as a “last straw.”
“We’re going to go with this panel, and just hope that whatever your mutation is, it shows up,” Jackson recalled the geneticist explaining.
“And it did.”
The diagnosis was vindication Jackson had been giving her all, but her symptoms likely will worsen with time. She notices them more now that she’s not quite as active.
“It’s just kind of, ‘How do I find a balance of not overworking myself to where I will get extremely tired and not be able to do anything for a few days (versus) doing too little and making the progression faster?” she said.
Her career was saved when the NCAA accepted her petition to use a cart. She reached out for help with the process to Oregon men’s head coach Casey Martin, who famously sued the PGA Tour for the right to use a cart due to a birth defect in his right leg. Martin responded within an hour.
After redshirting that year at Gardner-Webb University, Jackson played three years at Division II Palm Beach Atlantic before spending the past two with Division I Eastern Illinois while getting her master’s in history.
“I think that’s pretty impressive,” Jackson said. “I mean, I played Division I college golf as a disabled person.”
For now, Jackson is focused on starting as a history teacher this month at Northside Christian, where she will teach AP World History and ancient history courses.
The Adaptive Open returns to Pinehurst next year. As Moore collected the women’s championship trophy, she encouraged Jackson to “keep working.”
“And I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to get you next year,’” Jackson said.