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Headline: Brockton Native Stephen Kuketz Finds New Golf Life and Scores Emotional and Meaningful Hole in One
For Immediate Release: September 5, 2016
Norton, MA —It doesn’t take a golf professional to know how difficult it is to card an ace or appreciate the accomplishment that comes with doing so.
But for one local player whose returning to the game after a 25-year absence, the achievement is that much greater.
Stephen Kuketz’s hole in one, only three months after his return to the game, isn’t just a remarkable feat in itself. It’s the journey to how he got there that tells the real story.
Kuketz was an avid golfer in his youth and through his early adult life. That all changed on a foggy night in 1991.
“I had a horrible car crash,” recalls the Brockton native Kuketz. “I was by myself, and I ended up hitting a tree on a curb. As a result of the accident, I am paraplegic and also, my left eye went blind. It was one of the injuries that just didn’t recover.”
In the years since his accident, which left him paralyzed from the chest down, the 54-year old has found success competing as a paraplegic in several new sports, including racquetball, where he even competed as a member of the Team USA at the 1996 World Championships.
Kuketz said, “A year after my accident, I assumed I’d continue to play golf, but it wasn’t proper etiquette to play in a regular wheelchair. So I ended up playing racquetball and bowling, and I did very well and excelled in those sports.”
While he enjoyed those sports, and found a great deal of success, he always eyed a return to golf. But the struggles of playing the game with his conditions made the opportunity to return all that more difficult.
While he was worried about the etiquette of the game and the challenges posed by operating a wheelchair on a golf course terrain, Kuketz himself also faced other challenges. In addition to his inability to move his body from the chest down and his loss of vision in his left eye, just the concept of swinging a golf club proved difficult.
Kuketz explained, “I’m paralyzed from the chest down, so I don’t even have the hip swing to put momentum into the shot, other than my one arm and my hands.”
But that has all changed recently, and as a result, the Quincy resident has slowly made his way back on to the golf course, doing what he loved so much prior to his injury.
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation purchased four paragolfer machines that are designed specifically for golfers without the use of their lower body.
“It’s like a power wheelchair,” detailed Kuketz on the fairly new innovations to the golf course scene. “It has all terrain tires. When you get to your ball, you push a lever and it stands you up so you can swing a full-length golf club at a normal stance or angle or approach to the ball.”
Currently, the state’s four purchased paragolfer machines are split evenly between their two state-operated courses in the area. Two of the machines are available for use at Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton and the other two are at stationed at Weston’s Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course.
Kuketz splits his time navigating the two courses on a weekly basis and has garnered a group of fellow paraplegic golfers who play golf with him at the two venues.
It was with them at Leo J. Martin Memorial that on August 1, Kuketz recorded his first career hole in one and became, what he says, is the first paraplegic golfer in the world who is both blinded in one eye and limited to the use of one arm to record such a feat.
It occurred on the Weston course’s fifth hole, a par-3 that sits elevated at approximately 150 yards with a bunker in the front right of the green.
Describing that early August morning, Kuketz said, “The wind was fading left to right. I had a fade shot that required me to use my driver because my maximum distance is probably 200 yards. I kind of figured that was the right club. It was an XR 16 Callaway. It landed on the green. A couple of short hops and rolled right into the cup.”
His initial reaction was disbelief. Playing with a friend and fellow paraplegic golfer, Jeff Whelpley, Stephen recalls Jeff yelling, “It’s in the hole” upon looking up on the green where he had hit the ball.
One of the course’s green’s keepers, Bill Bomar, who was stationed near the hole as well, also played witness to Kuketz’s hole in one.
Kuketz said, “He went up there and pulled up the flag and took the ball out of the hole. Right in the cup.”
As excited as Kuketz was to record his first career hole in one, even more excitement lied in the fact that the number of opportunities for paraplegic’s wishing to pick up the game has dramatically increased in recent years.
One of the reasons has been the implementation of the Adaptive Sports Program, a program associated with both Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital and the Quincy YMCA, where Kuketz works out at, that helps patients who have suffered injuries similar to his use sports as a way to rehabbing.
Stating that the Adaptive Sports program was what got him back into the game, he is still active with the program as it continues to grow.
“We have golf clinics with our own golf professional,” said Kuketz. “There are probably 30 ball players now trying to figure out their game, whether they had a stroke or lost a limb. An amputee. There are some who lost their legs who are trying to find their balance.”
Two weeks prior to his hole in one, Kuketz was at a golf fundraiser where the YMCA raised $133,000 for the Adaptive Sports Program, and he got to demonstrate how to use the paragolfer machines to the players in the field. It was the organizers hope that money raised could be used to purchase more paragolfer machines to continue to increase the program for all golfers like Kuketz.
While you can find Stephen roaming around Leo J. Martin Memorial and Ponkapoag twice a week for the remainder of the season, the local golf scene won’t be the only place he’ll be at.
He was recently invited to compete at the North American One-Armed Golfer’s Association Tournament next year after attending the 2016 event as a spectator, which was held at North Kingston GC in Rhode Island earlier this summer.
With the golf season nearing completion, Kuketz has started planning for next season and hopes some of his fellow paraplegic golfer’s will be interested in the event as well.
He said, “I want to get an Olympic team together. I want to get a national local team in Boston and get these guys to go down to the national tournament, which will probably be in Tennessee.”
Although those plans are still in the early stages, what’s for sure is that Kuketz hopes to continue the growth of the game for his fellow paraplegic golfers. He hopes his accomplishment on the course will inspire others who’ve suffered like him to get back out there and enjoy the game.
If he can get his first career hole in one after 25 years away from the game, using a paragolfer machine nonetheless, he knows that others can do it as well.