Grisamore: Golf changed the course of his life

July 10, 2014 

THOMASTON -- On a good day at the golf course, when the putts are falling and his tee shots stay dry, Brian Oglesbee might break 100.

So you won’t find his name in the field for the second round of today’s 93rd annual Georgia Amateur at Idle Hour Club in Macon.

In head-to-head competition against any of the 144 golfers vying for the state crown, Brian would come up short every time.

Unless he was paired against them at midnight. How about a 3:30 a.m. tee time? That would level the playing field.

It’s always dark when Brian picks up his 7-iron. He never gets to see his shots when they land in the fairway or look for them in the woods. He reads the speed and contour of the green by pacing off each putt. His feet must do the work his eyes cannot.

Still, he plays the game with a passion. His name will never be on the state amateur trophy. The set of rules he is allowed to play by would never allow it.

But two weeks ago, Brian brought back a national championship to his hometown of Thomaston. He won the American Blind Golfers Association Match Play Championship in Medina, Ohio.

That’s just one of the many amazing things I’m going to tell you about Brian, a 36-year-old social studies teacher at Upson-Lee High School, his alma mater.

If you wanted an invitation to one of Brian’s pity parties, you’re about 20 years too late. He was diagnosed with retinal blastoma when he was 2 years old. His right eye was removed because of the cancer. He was visually impaired until he was 16. He had cataract surgery on his left eye in September 1993, with hopes of his vision improving enough to get his driver’s license.

But the surgery was unsuccessful, and he lost sight in his left eye.

“For the first couple of months, I was so depressed I didn’t even leave the sofa,” he said. “I just knew my life was over. I couldn’t imagine not being able to do everything I wanted to do.”

He had been playing golf since he was 5. When his mother, Jamie, encouraged him to keep at it, he resisted. How was he going to hit something he couldn’t see and take aim at a target in a world of darkness.

“She didn’t want me to use that as a crutch,” he said. “And for the longest time I fought it. I wanted to prove her wrong. I said I would go out and try to hit golf balls and make a fool of myself. Maybe that would get her off my back.”

His father, Randy, took him to Rocking Chair Driving Range and placed a club in his hands. He put a ball on the tee, lined him up and told him to have faith.

Brian took several deep breaths. His arms moved like a pendulum.

“Where did it go?” he asked.

“Straight,” said his dad.

In many ways, that lump-in-the-throat day changed the course of his life.

He returned to Upson-Lee for the 10th grade, where his teachers and classmates lined up behind him like caddies. A math teacher’s husband made wooden blocks to help teach him linear equations. Students in a journalism class recorded audio books for him by reading the assignments for his literature class.

His junior year, he attended the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon for mobility training and to learn Braille. He returned to Upson-Lee for his senior year. The Class of 1996 was the first to graduate after going all four years following the consolidation of Upson County High and R.E. Lee Institute. He enrolled at the University of Georgia with aspirations of becoming a teacher.

He was such a rabid football fan he did not miss a single UGA game at home -- or on the road -- in 2002, the year the Bulldogs won the Southeastern Conference championship and finished No. 3 in the nation. Of course, Larry Munson helped him “get the picture” from the stands. (He later paid tribute to the legendary Georgia broadcaster by naming his dog Munson.)

Brian and his wife, Mandy, have been married for seven years. He taught middle school for two years before moving to the high school eight years ago.

“On the first day of school, I always tell the students my story,” he said. “I challenge them to write an essay on three things they think they couldn’t do if they were blind when they woke up in the morning. They list things like cooking, doing laundry and playing sports. Then I tell them how I do it. My point is we all do things differently. And it doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you accomplish your goal.”

Five years ago, he began playing competitively in tournaments with the American Blind Golf Association. Although he is right-handed, he swings the clubs left-handed. He finished third at the national championships in San Antonio last year. His victory in the match play tournament in Ohio two weeks ago was his first at the national level.

His younger brother, Alex, served as his coach and caddy, advising him on which clubs to hit, and helping him with distance and direction. The brotherly bond proved to be a winning combination.

“He made it simple for me,” Brian said. “All I had to do was concentrate on my swing.”

The three-day event included a scramble to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Brian and Alex were paired with former Notre Dame football coach Gerry Faust.

“After I won, I did my Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combination of a first pump and jump in the air,” Brian said, laughing. “It was special when I called my dad. He and Alex have played together in some father-son tournaments and won. I know he has always been proud of me, but this was my first real accomplishment in golf.”

Brian hopes to become a motivational speaker and share his story with church groups and civic clubs. He has set up a Facebook page he calls “Vision Without Sight.”

This past year, Brian served as assistant golf coach at Upson-Lee. The young men on the team called him “coach.” That’s a title he wasn’t sure he would ever hear.

There is another badge of honor he never thought he would wear, either.

Bruce Hooper, president of the American Blind Golfers Association, went up to him and called him “champ.”

“He said I always will be,” Brian said. “No matter what happens, they can never take that away.”

Contact Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.

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