Dan Gallagher
 
Playing to His Strengths

Active Living Magazine

Dan Gallagher describes his introduction to golf as a “fluke.” Although he had watched his father play golf, and had watched the game on television, he never expected to play golf himself. When he was in his early twenties, Gallagher, who was born with cerebral palsy, went to a driving range with his father, Bill. He had intended only to watch his father hit the balls, but that day, Gallagher spontaneously picked up a golf club. “My father was a big golfer,” Gallagher, now 41, remembers. “He had me just swinging the golf club and trying to make contact with the golf ball.” From that day, Gallagher realized that golf was a sport he wanted to pursue. “I used to go everyday in the summer and just practice hitting balls,” he says. “Then I practiced my putting and chipping the golf ball.”

Eventually, Gallagher tried a real golf course. He first played three holes, then nine holes. By the second year, Gallagher had worked his way up to 18 holes, where he shot 156 for his first 18-hole golf game. “I couldn’t walk for about three days, my leg was so sore. It was really hard,” Gallagher says with a laugh.

By the time his father had introduced him to golf, Gallagher was already an accomplished athlete. He has competed as a power lifter, works out at his local gym, and enjoys skiing in the winter. He prides himself on having an active and busy life, and stays in good physical shape. Now, he can add golf tournament champion to his impressive list of accomplishments.

Since his first golf tournament in 1996, Gallagher has won numerous trophies, most recently, first place in the 2001 Ontario Amputee and Les Autres Provincial Golf Championships, where he was the Les Autres CP Champion.

Doug Walker is the current president of the Ontario Amputee and Les Autres Sports Association. “We were preparing for a national golf tournament in 1996,” recalls Walker, “and I got a call to see if I could play with Danny to see if he could play well enough to play in the tournaments.” Walker, along with a neighbour, and Gallagher went out to play. “We were really impressed with how Danny played … particularly when he birdied a hole,” Walker relates.

Gallagher’s golf game is modified. Someone tees up for him, and like many golfers, he has customized his golf clubs to his swing. “It’s not just because of my handicap, it’s because people do that,” he says. Gallagher uses four woods, drivers 1, 3, 5 and 7, irons 4 to 9, a pitching wedge, and a putter. When Gallagher putts, he uses a crutch for balance. “When I get over the ball, I put my hand on the putter, aim forward and putt the ball from that position,” Gallagher explains. He uses a standard golf ball with 90 compressions. “I find that they go the farthest,” he says. He uses a baseball grip to hold the golf club. “It’s the easiest for me,” he explains. “I do well with the baseball grip.”

Gallagher needs crutches to walk, but he swings the golf club without them. “It’s like a gift from God; I can’t explain it,” he says. “The weight of the club in my hand, it’s like a pendulum, it keeps me in balance,” Gallagher describes. “However, I do fall on occasion, and I just get up and start again.”

“It amazes us how he can steady himself,” Walker says. “He’s been known to fall down a few times, but he just gets back up…it usually works best when somebody sets up the ball for him.”

The most important difference in Gallagher’s game is an innovation thought out by a golf buddy. “A friend of mine discovered a system where I could play quicker, faster. When I hit the ball, he would drive the golf cart over top of the golf ball, straddling it. Then I get out and he backs up, so I am in position,” Gallagher explains. “That way, I don’t have to walk to the ball.” This also helps Gallagher to conserve his energy for the game.

Paralympic athlete and association golfer and volunteer Elizabeth Walker has driven Gallagher’s cart on several occasions, and says that having a driver is beneficial. “It’s positive for many reasons. He doesn’t have to walk so far and Dan doesn’t like to hold other players up,” she reveals. “He grabs the windshield, has the clubs already in his hand, then he quickly readies himself to shoot the ball.” She says that Gallagher had to show her how to drive the cart the way that would be most helpful to him. “I soon learned to go backwards, to back away from the ball, so he could swing,” she offers.

“He’s a tremendous golfer,” says Ed Krayewski, who has played with Gallagher in golf tournaments and has driven with him in the cart. “In order to help him to conserve energy for the rest of the day we’ll position him so the ball is almost at his feet.”

Doug Walker says Gallagher is a focused player. “He doesn’t talk much, he just plays his game and he plays fairly ready golf. When it’s his turn, he’s ready to go,” he says. “He gives 100 percent on every shot—he’s not fooling around. He’s out there to play the best game he can play.” Gallagher’s best score is 112 but he consistently scores in the 120 range.

Gallagher is the only player with cerebral palsy in the Ontario Amputee and Les Autres Sports Association tournaments and hopes that other players with cerebral palsy will begin to discover the joys of golf. “You are outdoors, you’re in the fresh air,” he promotes. “Golf is an individual game—you compete within yourself. I don’t go out there trying to beat anybody. I try to beat myself. I try to get better every time.”

Gallagher says golf can be a great sport for people with cerebral palsy in the sense that playing golf has improved his coordination and balance. “It’s a great outlet and if you like to compete, you can do so. With golf, you can always better yourself. That’s what I like about the game, nobody’s perfect.”

Gallagher admits that he tries to maintain realistic expectations of himself. “I try to play to my ability,” Gallagher says. “If I get a par three in five or six, I’m happy…You always have to play within your strengths.”

Gallagher has come a long way from that first day at the driving range. He’s now well into the 2002 season, which runs from the end of May until September and is out there religiously, working hard to improve his game and win more tournaments. Golf seems to be a metaphor for how Gallagher lives his life—he plays within his strengths, he competes within himself, and he always strives to be better, to improve his score—in whatever he does. It could very well be why golf is the perfect game for him.

For more information on the Ontario Amputee Sports and Les Autres Sports Association, and to participate in their golf tournaments, phone (905) 878-8035 or email dgwalker@idirect.com or dan.gallagher@kraft.com.

 
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