No handicaps for these players: Steve Elkington show finds true winners in golf

Wanted to pass along information about a unique golf show.


For a very good reason, Edward “EQ” Sylvester may be the most passionate golfer who has ever taken a golf lesson. And as RFD-TV viewers will discover on the fourth episode of the hit show “The Rural Golfer”, Steve Elkington learned a lot more from Sylvester than the 1995 PGA Championship winner bestowed to his golf pupil.

The Rural Golfer airs on RFD-TV at 9:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, with encore shows airing at 12:30 p.m. Sunday (ET) and the following Friday at 6 a.m. (ET).

This week’s episode is one that will stay with all but the most hard-hearted person. It takes Elkington on the road to one of the most renowned public courses in the country – Cog Hill Golf & Country Club outside of Chicago. Known as the longtime former home of the PGA Tour’s Western Open and a past site of the FedExCup’s BMW Championship, Cog Hill now plays host to the Freedom Golf Assn. (FGA).

Which is where Elkington discovered Sylvester and his fellow FGA members – all of whom are physically challenged, but emotionally charged when it comes to golf.

“Today, we have found some of the most passionate people we may ever come across, Elkington said.

No doubt. Sylvester is a triple-amputee who in 2011, lost both feet, his left arm at the elbow and all but three fingers on his right hand to sepsis. When he awoke after a two-week coma and one of the 12 surgeries he would undergo, his passion for hitting golf balls awoke with him.

Once he discovered that courses around the country weren’t equipped or weren’t willing to work with golfers with special needs, so did his passion for helping other physically challenged golfers.

“One in five Americans are disabled – 50 million people. Of those, 18 million have physical disabilities and 6.7 million of those can’t make it without physical help,” Sylvester said. “Many of those want to play golf and we discovered that many of the courses around the country either didn’t know or didn’t want to help them.

“Here’s my mission. Let’s see what I can do to help them around the country. And the Freedom Golf Association was born.”

The Freedom Golf Assn. has one mission: “To bring freedom and joy to those with special needs through the game of golf,” Sylvester said.

Sylvester and fellow FGA ambassadors such as Bruce “Boomer” Miller, who lost his leg due to an aneurysm, do this by working with PGA of America professionals to help them become adaptive golf instructors and with courses around the country to help them become more accessible to physically challenged golfers.

The FGA has built relationships with The First Tee, the Wounded Warriors Foundation and the Special Olympics, forming alliances that can only grow the game.

One of Sylvester’s early champions was Frank Jemsek, whose father Joe, bought Cog Hill in 1951. After watching Sylvester struggle to hit golf balls with “my 4 mile-per-hour swing speed,” as he phrased it, Jemsek wasted little time in making Cog Hill one of the most accessible courses in the country and has rolled out the green carpet for Sylvester and other challenged golfers.

“We didn’t see any reason to take a portion of society and not let them be your customers, Jemsek said. “We’re in the people business in trying to accommodate golfers. I’m proud of the customers who are challenged and able to keep going.”

They do more than that. Before giving Sylvester a few tips, Elkington watched in awe as Sylvester strapped on a prosthetic left arm at his elbow, then attached a pivot that resembles a chair caster and plastic column that allows him to hinge and hold a golf club. He watched as Miller balanced on a prosthetic right leg and stroked arching, straight irons any golfer would be proud to hit.

“I just lost a leg. Big deal. I can still do the things I want to do. It just takes me longer. Golf lets you be yourself without the inhibitions. Here, I’m learning how to help people,” Miller said.

Sylvester talked at length how grateful he was for Elkington to spend time with him and his fellow physically challenged golfers. But Elkington – and the viewers of “The Rural Golfer” will be the ones grateful for the privilege.

“These are hopeful guys. They have plans,” Elkington said. “EQ has plans. When you listen to him, you realize that EQ will not be stopped.

“I think the most important thing anyone can have is hope and these guys are full of it.”

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