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June 4, 2006

Golf: Strano now teaches game to the deaf

From: Annapolis Capital, MD - Jun 4, 2006

By DAVID BROUGHTON, Capital's golf writer

For 15 years, Rob Strano followed a path he hoped would lead him to a career on the PGA Tour. Three years ago, however, for reasons both physical and spiritual, Strano set out on a different course, one that takes him around the country teaching golf to deaf children. Strano is Executive Director of the Washington D.C.-based United States Deaf Golf Association. A Chesapeake Beach resident, Strano conducts clinics for deaf children, all done strictly in sign language.

On Wednesday, Strano and the USDGA, in conjunction with the McDonald's LPGA Championship, will conduct a private golf clinic for girls from the Maryland School for the Deaf. The clinic will take place at Mountain Branch Golf Club in Joppa. In addition to Strano, four LPGA Tour players - Katherine Hull, Catherine Cartwright, Kris Tschetter, and Katie Futcher - will take part, demonstrating various aspects of the game.

In the two years since Strano joined the USDGA, interest in his clinics has skyrocketed. In 2004, Strano conducted the first-ever sign language golf clinic. That clinic, in Pensacola, Fla., attracted 15 kids. That year, more than 250 kids took part in eight camps around the country. This year, according to Strano, 18 camps have been held, with over 1,000 participating.

"I've learned that the only difference between these kids and other kids is the ability to hear," Strano said this week from Dublin, Ohio, where he's attending the Memorial to support his friend. Kevin Hall, a deaf golfer from Ohio State University who's playing in the tournament.

"The kids I work with are solid athletes who have the ability to learn the game and how to make a proper golf swing. In every one of them, I see greatness, whether it's playing golf, being a lawyer, an accountant or a computer expert. There's no limit to what they can do."

The USDGA is a non-profit organization with 501C3 status. All the camps Strano conducts are free, thanks to corporate and private support. "The events are fully funded, so every deaf child or parent can have the opportunity to learn this great game," Strano said. "Hopefully, they go on to play the game and practice and learn the lessons that golf teaches, like integrity, hard work and the enforcement of rules. There are so many intangibles that can be learned from golf."

By 2002, Strano had played competitive golf for 15 years with experience on the PGA and Nationwide Tours. However, an assortment of injuries prevented him from advancing his professional career. At about the same time, Strano's wife, Naomi, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and a critical care nurse, was sent to Kuwait, leaving Strano to look after the couple's children with very little opportunity to practice or travel.

With his wife in harm's way, Strano, a religious man, prayed often. At one point, Strano said he received a message from God. The message was to learn sign language.

"I thought, 'This doesn't make sense.' I didn't know a word or a letter of sign language; I didn't even know a deaf person," Strano said.

A few weeks later, Strano attended a church service to listen to his daughter sing in the choir. Immediately, Strano noticed a woman signing for the congregation. Strano turned to the woman next to him and asked whether she knew who the person was. As it turned out, the woman seated next to Strano was herself a sign language teacher.

"God moved his people around where he needed them," Strano said.

With his wife back in the U.S. and stationed at Andrews Air Force base, Strano is able to further his sign language knowledge at Gallaudet University. More importantly, he's situated perfectly for his work with the USDGA.

"I'm able to serve as a direct bridge between the hearing golf business world and the deaf golf community," Strano said. "We're doing incredible, great things."

- No Jumps-

Published June 04, 2006, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2006 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.