Originally Published at Asbury Park Press by Stephen Edelson
I hope to show from my own personal example that you should never, ever give up on your dreams.
- Dennis Walters
Just a few miles from his boyhood home, Dennis Walters carefully adjusted the swivel seat in his specially designed golf cart, loosened up his arms and torso with a series of practice swing, and then unleashed a drive that sailed to the edge of the woods some 250 yards away behind Wayside School.
Over the past 32 years, the I Neptune native has wowed audiences across the country with his trick-shot mastery and inspirational message in more than 2,700 shows. He's done countless clinics with Tiger Woods, performing at dozens of major championships and met several presidents. And next month he'll receive the PGA of America's Distinguished Service Award in a gala at the Detroit Symphony Hall the week of the PGA Championship at Bloomfield Hills.
But every time his motor home returns to Monmouth County, it's something of a homecoming for the paraplegic golfer.
"It's great to be back at the Jersey Shore," said Walters, who lost the use of his legs 34 years ago when a golf cart overturned on him at Roxiticus Golf Club in Mendham, when he was an aspiring PGA Tour player.
And so, in front of a gathering of more than 400 kids, some from the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County, in conjunction with the First Tee of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and many from the Ocean Township recreation program, Walters spent nearly an hour unveiling his dazzling =ay of clubs and shots, while imparting life lessons so powerful they can't help but influence a young life.
"I hope to show from my own personal example that you should never, ever give up on your dreams," said Walters, who was coldly told by his doctor he would never play golf again shortly after his accident.
Less than two years later, he pulled up onto the grass lawn outside the Kessler Institute in West Orange and hit balls in a modified golf cart just to make his point And he's been making his point ever since.
From the shot he strikes with a three-headed iron, launching three balls simultaneously onto different trajectories, to shots with clubheads attached to the end of everything from a fishing rod to a radiator hose, the balls seemed to all travel long and straight.
"It was awesome," said Michael Olsen of Asbury Park, who is learning to play the game thanks to the First Tee, with their newly opened facility at Colonial Terrace Golf Course in Ocean Township.
"It's pretty cool that he can't walk but can still play golf."
Sponsored by Jersey Mike's Subs, which will underwrite 10 of Walter's shows this year, the morning ended with Walters' assistant, Nate Wilson, helping him perform a machine gun shot, where Walters drilled one ball after another as it is rolled down a ramp onto a platform.
It's a stunt where Walters must continually refocus on a moving target, and strikes one solid, straight shot after another out into the field before him, underscoring just how polished he has become at his craft.
But it's the message, sprinkled in among the gimmicks and sensational swings that remains timeless, even as the shots change over the years.
"You may not have a goal in your life right now, or an obstacle you have to overcome," he told the crowd, "but I'm betting at some point every single person out here is going have a goal, or a dream or an obstacle that you have to contend with. And I'm hoping in some small way what you see here today can help you accomplish that goal, achieve a dream or overcome an obstacle."
Walters is constantly finding new ways to reach as many people as possible. He works with the United States Golf Association in their "Catch The Spirit" program, designed to attract more kids to the sport, and is constantly performing at First Tee events around the country.
And to finally perform at a First Tee event at the Jersey Shore - the First Tee of Monmouth and Ocean counties received its charter earlier this year - made Wednesday's show that much more special.
"This is something that's great for this area, and I'm proud to have been a part of it," he added.
Dennis Walters hits a golf ball off of a can during his clinic for the Monmouth and Ocean First Tee programPhoto by Bryan Ferreira