Golfer inspires others to see a different picture

Paul Kix

Turn on a flashlight. For 20 seconds, stare down into its beam. Now throw your head back and gaze at the ceiling.

Look quickly. It’s over in a few seconds.

Notice the bright spot in the center of each eye. You can’t see anything else.

Notice the periphery, where you can kind of make out shapes. Now colors. Now look at Chris Martin.

It’s Wednesday afternoon, July 25th, and he’s playing golf at Waveland, a beauty of an 18-hole public course just west of downtown Des Moines.

At 37, Martin’s tuft of black hair shows little trace of gray.

It is thick, but retreating at the temples. Still, it gives the impression that if it weren’t trimmed regularly, the curls would begin to show.

A blue and white collared shirt is tucked into his white khakis, which hang over black and white golf shoes.

The sky is overcast, and to the west, the clouds threaten rain.

Perfect day for Chris; where there’s less brightness around him, there is more of a chance Martin can see something.

Because, you see, those few seconds after the flashlight have been the past 18 years of Martin’s life.

He has Leber’s Optic Atrophy, which is a genetic eye disease.

It strikes during the male growth spurt, triggering the optic nerve — one thing you see with – to shrink, and eventually die.

Martin lost his eyesight the first weekend of his freshman year at the University of Iowa.

“When I first lost my eyesight, I learned I couldn’t play sports with balls,” Martin says. “‘Cause I get welts.”

He took up powerlifting to stay in shape.

Ten years ago, a friend introduced him to golf. Prior to that, he had only played two rounds of golf in his life.

“Hardest part was the first lesson,” Martin says. “You have to go out and stink for two years.”

Martin stunk, fell in love with the game, and shot an 81 earlier this year.

He believes that round qualified him for the United States Blind Golfers Association National Championship, which is in Greensboro, N.C., Sept. 16 through 19.

The past four years, Martin’s tried to qualify. This is the first he’s done so.

He’s here at Waveland preparing for it.

The second hole at Waveland is a 147-yard par-3, where the tee box and green serve as peaks of hills. There is nastiness below.

Shrubs and bushes bloom wildly across the valley of these peaks. So much so, golf carts must detour to the far right to get around to the green.

Chris gets out of his cart and walks to his clubs strapped in the back.

He rummages through his bag, peering so closely his cheek nearly brushes the blades.

He pulls out a seven-iron, brings it to his nose to make sure he pulled out the right one, and walks toward the tee box.

“How’s that,” Chris says to his playing partner Jim Lacona, wanting to know if his feet are lined up properly with the ball and the flag in the distance.

“Good,” says Lacona, one of four people Martin regularly plays with.

Out of the corner of his eye, Martin sees only a white spot below him, and swings at that.

His swing looks like any other’s out here today. At impact, the club is open slightly, which causes him to fade it.

Still, its arch is high and true, and the ball’s divot tears up the front of the green as it lands.

“I don’t think the obstacles I face are any different than the ones you face,” Martin says. “Mark Twain once said ‘Success is not how far you get, it’s what you overcome.'”

“He amazes me beyond belief,” Steve Hocker says. Hocker will caddie for Martin in Greensboro. “I forget most of the time that he’s blind.”

Martin reads greens by walking up to the pin. His birdie putt on the 2nd is about 20 feet away.

He knows if he brings his putter back to his right foot, the ball will roll about twenty feet.

But this putt is slightly uphill, so he’ll bring it back a little further. Lacona tells him it looks good.

It goes right up to the cup, where it burns past the right edge. Chris taps out for par.

“It’s a team game,” Martin says. “If my partner’s busy, I can’t play.”

On his birdie putt, Martin relied on Lacona to tell him about how far away it was.

He relied on Lacona to better tell him if the putt would break more than Martin thought.

In the fairway, Martin will hold out his club at arms length, the taut forearms with veins running everywhere — a remnant of his powerlifting days — finding the flagstick when his partner says “more to the left,” or “more to the right.”

“On a sunnier day, I need a lot more help. The more light there is, the less I can see,” he says

Imagine the flashlight again. On a bright day, the sunlight will fill in the shapes you can see on the periphery.

On those days, he shoots around 100, wearing what he calls “heavy-duty sunglasses.”

On cloudy days, mid-80s.

But when he isn’t golfing, he’s speaking.

Martin is a family therapist-turned-motivational speaker.

“It started out as just telling my story. Blossomed into where doors opened up.”

He says he’s inspired people to start a business, or write a book.

“Golf’s my passion,” Martin says. “It doesn’t have to be theirs.”

Despite his love for golf and life, there are sights Martin misses.

“I miss being able to pick out a friend across the room… I’ve got two children now, they’re both under four. I’ve always dreamed about being able to watch their expressions as they play in the park.”

A pause, then he adds, “Other than that, I pretty much experience the same highs and lows in life that you do.”

Jim Lacona, his partner on the cloudy day at Waveland says, “He’s out here and can’t even see the ball and trying so hard to play it just puts everything else in perspective.”

Paul Kix is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Hubbard.