Former Ryder Cup Captains Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam showed their support for golf’s Paralympic bid ahead of the Handa Cup Senior Masters in Japan this week.
The European Senior Tour players teed up alongside well known disabled golfer Manuel de los Santos and IBGA World Blind Golf Champion Jeremy Poincenot at Ohmurasaki Golf Club, Saitama to support the bid which aims to get golf into the Paralympics in Rio 2016.
Both Torrance and Woosnam work with ISPS as ambassadors to help promote golf to a wider audience and encourage the game amongst disability groups.
Major Champion Woosnam said: “I’m just amazed to see these guys out here. The quality of Jeremy’s strike is incredible, while Manuel’s strength and power to play on one leg is wonderful.
“It is great to see the support Dr Handa, the Chairman of ISPS, puts into the sport. With his help hopefully we can get golf into the Paralympics, it deserves to be in it.”
Torrance added: “It’s fantastic to see these guys playing. Jeremy has a fantastic swing while Manuel hits the ball a mile.
“Dr Handa is a godsend for the Senior Tour and does a lot of great work all over the world. His objective now is to help get disabled golf into the Paralympics.
“Golf has been accepted into the Olympics so it would be great to see it in the Paralympics also. I think Jeremy and Manuel would be competing for the gold medal.”
De los Santos is a well known figure throughout the golfing world having competed in a number of high profile invitational events in recent years, including the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on The European Tour. A promising young sportsman from the Dominican Republic, he lost his leg in a motorcycle not long before he was due to have a trial with the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. He is now a passionate golfer with a best handicap of 2, working hard toward becoming a full time pro.
De los Santos said: “Golf is very important to me. It is my second leg. When I play golf I don’t feel like I have a problem. Golf is my life. I don’t think about hitting the ball, I just hit it.
“It was fantastic to play with Torrance and Woosnam today. Golf has taken me around the world and it would be very important to compete for a Paralympic Medal. I pray this happens.”
Poincenot is the reigning World Blind Golf Champion, and one of the youngest winners of the title at only 20 years old.
“It’s been fantastic to be here in Japan alongside these great players,” he said.
“I played golf every week as a teenager, before I lost my central vision at 19. This hasn’t stopped me from playing and has even made me appreciate the game much more. It gives me something to look forward to. When I won the World Championships I started to believe that I really could play the game to a high level.
“Blind golf is really a team sport, as I put a lot of trust in my dad Lio who is my caddie and helps to line me up. I really hope that more blind people can take part in the sport. It’s such a great thing to do. To represent the US at the Paralympics one day would be awesome.”
The Handa Cup Senior Masters is the second event on the European Senior Tour 2011 Order of Merit sponsored by ISPS and its Chairman Dr Haruhisa Handa. ISPS supports a number of events around the world, at each one promoting awareness for blind and disabled golf and encouraging more people to take up the sport.
Dr Handa, the Japanese philanthropist who is an International Ambassador for the European Senior Tour said: “I am thrilled that Manuel and Jeremy were able to join us in Japan. They are extremely talented golfers who prove that anyone can be successful and enjoy this wonderful game.
“It is a core strategy of ISPS to support blind and disabled golf to give more people the opportunity to play the game. We hope that the International Paralympic Committee accepts golf into its programme to showcase the sport at the highest level.”
Dr Handa has been a major funder of blind golf in particular, establishing the JBGA in 1989 and helping to form the IBGA nine years later. His influence in the sport is so significant that he is often referred to as “the father of blind golf”.
David Blyth, President of the IBGA, said: “Getting golf into the Paralympics would be a huge catalyst to progress the sport.
“Blind golf really got going in the late eighties through Dr Handa’s support. He helped to set up the IBGA itself. The international community wouldn’t exist without him and he does a lot to promote our sport.
“We want to work closely with other disability groups to make the Paralympic bid successful.”
Andy Stubbs, Managing Director of the European Senior Tour added: “We are delighted that golf will appear in the Olympics in Rio in 2016 and believe that there is a strong case for it to feature in the Paralympics as well.
“We fully endorse the work of Dr Handa and ISPS to highlight golf as a potential Paralympic sport and will play our part to help highlight the sport to wider audiences.”
The International Paralympic Committee makes its decision on which sports will be included in the Paralympics on December 11, 2010.
Footage of Torrance and Woosnam supporting the Paralympic bid at the Handa Cup Senior Masters will be broadcast worldwide through European Tour Productions and their local partners.