GREENSBORO, N.C. – Gary, Arnie and Jack know the feeling. They’ve hit balls in front of millions during their long careers, but having to do it now, with their aches and pains, doesn’t come easy.
But they do it each year at the Master’s – ceremonial tee shots that open the famous tournament in Augusta.
Randy Rogers did the same at early Tuesday morning at the 2015 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championships at the Grandover Resort. He may not have the lore of the three Masters’ legends, but he’s good enough that his mother wears a shirt that says, “Team Randy. We have a famous athlete.”
For the first time in the 41-year history of the Division III Men’s Golf Championships, a ceremonial tee shot opened the 72-hole event that has brought 210 outstanding golfers from 41 colleges across the country. They will compete on Grandover’s East and West Courses over the next four days.
Rogers, 43, was born with Down syndrome, but hasn’t let the disability keep him from compiling enough medals that fill his parents’ home in nearby Colfax, North Carolina. He was honored at the tournament banquet Monday night and picked to hit the ceremonial first ball to highlight the standing relationship between NCAA Division III and the Special Olympics.
When Rogers walked onto the first tee Tuesday morning, he was welcomed by starter Ann Gainey, who used to do the same chore at what’s now the Wyndham Championship. Players from many of the competing schools ceased practice putting to amble over to the tee to witness an historic moment in the tournament’s history.
Rogers was wearing khaki shorts and a black shirt with logos promoting the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles this summer. He’ll compete on the U.S. golf team, the first time he has competed in a World Games since 1991 when he won seven medals, including two gold.
His sport back then was gymnastics.
Rogers took two practice swings, then confronted the ball. Wack. Not bad, a little slice that carried the ball down the right side of the fairway about 200 yards. The players and other spectators applauded.
Rogers, his mom and dad, then climbed down from the tee for an interview with a young woman from WFMY-TV. Randy’s dad introduced himself as Roy Rogers, and then waited for a reaction from the newswoman. When none came, he said, “Too young.”
Many older people respond to the dad’s name by asking Randy’s mom, “Well, you must be Dale Evans?”
The more famous Roy Rogers was king of the cowboys on movie screens and TV during the 1950s. His wife, Dale, was always his sidekick.
Roy’s and Sandy’s son works bagging groceries at the Harris Teeter supermarket across from Guilford College, one of the teams in this week’s tournament. He graduated from McIver School on Summit Avenue, which works with children with disabilities.
“We are extremely proud. He works very hard at everything he does,” Sandy Rogers said.
At the upcoming World Games, he’ll compete against 200 golfers from 177 countries. ESPN and ABC will televise the games. Roy Rogers has been told President Obama will be at the opening ceremonies starting July 25; and Vice President Joe Biden at the closing. Some 30,000 volunteers and one million spectators are expected at Los Angeles’ biggest sporting event since the 1984 Summer Olympiad.
It doesn’t come easy for folks with Down syndrome. Roy Rogers said his son is blind in one eye. “He can hit the ball father than he can see it,” he said. Randy also lacks the muscle prowess of a person without his disability.
Even though he will be making his first return the World Games in 14 years, he has competed regularly in Special Olympics State Games and those in the Guilford County and Greensboro area.
Rogers was selected by the State Games Committee to play on the world team. He recently shot 109 at the Maple Leaf Golf Club near Kernersville. Every Thursday you can find him on the practice range at the Carolina Golf Academy, a teaching facility off N.C 68. He was chosen for the U.S. Team not just because he can play decent golf. Contestants must be able to look out for themselves, more or less. He will live in a dorm overseen by the team’s coach. If told to be at the course at 6:30 a.m. with his bag, he must prepare himself to be there.
At the World Games, he’ll challenge two courses at Los Angeles’ Griffin Park. Bank of America, a big World Games sponsor, sent the family there for a ‘get acquainted’ visit.
“It’s not too bad,” Randy said of the toughness of Griffin Park.
“I thought they were pretty easy courses because they were flat,” said his dad, a retired construction man who also served a 20-year hitch in the U.S. Army.
The public will next see Randy Rogers lugging the Special Olympic Torch along a stretch of Guilford County roadway in early June. Torches from four other locations will make their way to Los Angeles.
As a special treat for the Rogers’ family, a friend, Winston-Salem police officer A.L. Negron – who gave Randy the driver he uses – will light the fire in the bowl in Los Angeles. The act officially starts the start of the Special Olympic World Games.
Story by Jim Schlosser
Submitted by Guilford College Sports Information Department
Guilford is a proud co-host of the 2015 NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championships, May 12-15 at Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C.