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June 1, 2006

Deaf golfer takes swing as pioneer

From: - Detroit,MI,USA - Jun 1, 2006

Hall, the Big Ten champion in 2004, gets sponsor's exemption to Memorial Tournament.

Vartan Kupelian / The Detroit News

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Kevin Hall knows the sound of silence.

He sees and hears with his eyes, and his heart. He plays golf by feel, the way it's meant to be played.

Hall, 23, is deaf. He was the first African-American to get a golf scholarship to Ohio State and, in 2004, won the Big Ten title.

Today, he tees it up at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. In his first four PGA events, two this year and two last year, he did not make the cut. He is playing the Memorial on a sponsor's exemption.

This is Jack Nicklaus' tournament, on the course he designed and built.

And this is Buckeyes country.

That makes Hall a natural. He is the 17th Buckeyes golfer to win the Big Ten title. A few others: Nicklaus, John Cook, Joey Sindelar and Chris Perry, graduated to the PGA Tour.

And Tiger Woods expects Hall to match the achievement.

That's what Woods, who is absent this week, Hall's only disappointment, said at a clinic in Hall's hometown of Cincinnati seven years ago. Woods offered Hall some private instruction and this advice: Extend on the backswing, to create a bigger arc.

On the next swing, Hall blasted a drive yards longer than his usual distance. Hall beamed at the magic that day, and again Tuesday as he re-told the story, rising from a chair to demonstrate the swing that resulted in that distance.

Woods' parting words to Hall: "I'll see you on tour some day."

"Yes, his exact words," Hall said through his sign interpreter, Rob Stano, a former pro golfer who is executive director of the U.S. Deaf Golf Association.

"Mom interpreted for me, so those are his exact words. Moms don't lie."

Hall's story is unique, and he knows what that means.

"I don't think people will see me as just another golfer," Hall said. "It just won't happen."

But he doesn't mind, really. He's just pleased to be another golfer instead of, say, a journalist, the discipline in which he earned a degree at Ohio State.

"Not enough money," Hall said, smiling.

The Big Ten title was a stroll in the park for Hall. He won by 11 shots.

What happened next, Hall said, is something he will treasure the rest of his life. The other golfers, who gathered for the award presentation, gave him a standing ovation.

Hall didn't hear it. He didn't have to. He knew what was happening and what it meant. He was being recognized for being a champion.

He knows golf the same way.

"I lost my hearing and I learned to feel and see with my eyes," he said. "If I hit the ball bad, it comes off the club slow, and that's kind of the way I hear it with my eyes. A good hit, I see it come off fast and normal."

Hall was born prematurely and at age 2 suffered from H-flu meningitis. For a month, he had fevers of more than 102 degrees. It is a childhood illness that often results in death. Hall survived but lost his hearing. Seven years later, Hall discovered golf. What started with a single trip to a driving range became a passion because the swing came so effortlessly, so naturally, so beautifully.

"I had an easy time learning because my teacher was very visual in how he taught me, and taught me using body language and I copied him to learn the swing, so it came really easy," Hall said.

Hall reads every golf book he can get his hands on. Today, he's reading "Feel Golf." And he watches every golf swing he sees.

"Most of my inspirations were from my parents," he said. "I was inspired by Tiger Woods, by Fred Couples. I watched Couples, Tiger, Phil (Mickelson) … the golf swings, again and again and again, and they'd get in my mind. I'd go outside, I'd remember what I saw, and then I'd try to input it into my swing."

Hall is a small guy -- 5-foot-8, 175 pounds. He plays the game more like Fred Funk than Woods, Couples or Mickelson. Hall drives the ball straight but not long. His game is precision, not power.

Another strength: patience and perseverance, two things he has practiced every day for more than 20 years and two things that are indispensable for good golf. Hall's mother tries to play golf occasionally but, he said, she just quits, a thought that has never entered Hall's consciousness.

"When I was 2 and I was fighting for my life, I didn't quit," Hall said. "And quitting golf isn't a choice. Golf is my passion. Whether it's hard or easy, it doesn't matter. It's inside me and something I want … every day is a new day for me. I just wake up and practice and play hard. That's all you can do."

You can reach Vartan Kupelian at (313) 222-2285 or

© 2006 The Detroit News.