Envision in the News: Visually impaired junior golfers take course at Air Capital Classic

June 19, 2017
The following article was published in the June 13 Wichita Eagle: 

Eagle correspondent

Jimmy Lewis-Swain’s short putt was on track from the start Tuesday morning at Crestview Country Club. A little fast, but definitely on line.

As the ball struck the back of the hole and popped into the air, onlookers’ anticipation turned to dismay as it settled just beyond the desired target.

It’s a scene that could play out at any point later this week during the Web.com Tour’s Air Capital Classic. On Tuesday, it was a cherished opportunity.

Lewis-Swain, who will be a freshman at Maize High, is completely blind. He and Eisenhower Middle School seventh-grader Julia McLeod, who has a genetic eye disorder, participated with other young golfers in the Marge Page Junior Pro-Am.

Both have spent Monday evenings in June at MacDonald Golf Course taking part in the Envision Golf Clinic. Envision, a Wichita-based organization, is dedicated to providing inspiration and independence to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

“It’s fun and it gets me exercise and whatnot,” said Lewis-Swain, who was assisted during the pro-am by golf instructor and Envision program mentor Len Hudson.

Lewis-Swain, 14, participated in track and cross country in middle school. He began playing golf last year through Envision, which had 30 participants of all ages and their accompanying mentors at Monday’s weekly clinic.

According to Hannah Christenson, Envision support program coordinator, Lewis-Swain was born prematurely, and saturation of oxygen into his lungs caused retina deformations. Despite his blindness, Lewis-Swain’s mother, Alice, said Envision, the designated beneficiary of this year’s Air Capital Classic’s Splurge! Tee Off Party, has opened the door to many opportunities for her son.

“We’re trying to get him used to doing things that we didn’t always know were available,” she said. “They have been absolutely amazing. Until we got involved with Hannah and (Envision director of support programs) Miss Bonnie (Cochran), we didn’t even know any of this existed for the visually impaired.”

McLeod, like her older brother Andrew, has Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a condition that can cause decreased vision over time. She has participated in Envision’s golf program for half of her life.

“Julia’s vision is decent but she still struggles,” said her father, Brady McLeod. “She can’t play ball sports, really.

“Golf has kind of opened her up to some possibilities. She does cheer and it’s helped provide that confidence that she can do whatever.”

Lewis-Swain and McLeod were partnered with Wichita State golfer Taryn Torgerson. Torgerson, a senior who earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors, wore vision simulators on some of her shots during the pro-am, including one for total blindness.

Torgerson hooked her first attempt into the water.

“It’s definitely weird,” Torgerson said. “It just kind of puts things into perspective. I am grateful that I’m blessed with not perfect eyesight, but good eyesight that I can play this game.

“It’s a humbling experience to be out here and see these kids do so well despite having to work so much harder at it than I do.”

McLeod worked with mentor Hannah Whipple, who like Hudson, provided assistance in aligning the golfer and made sure clubs were properly placed at address. McLeod excited her playing group with a shot from the fairway that skipped over a creek and landed on the other side.

The moment fit in well with McLeod’s big-picture outlook on golf.

“I like to be with the people, honestly,” she said. “I just like having fun.”

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