Dennis Walters' amateur career was still in its infancy when he started being groomed for the PGA Tour. His love affair with the game had begun when he was just eight years old and after mixing it with the very best in US college golf, the expectation was that he could make a lucrative and exciting career for himself. That was until his life took a dramatic turn. An accident in a golf buggy left him paralysed. It killed his dream, but ultimately mapped out an even better one which has just earned him a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame...
As a young man, Dennis frequently locked horns with future Major winners Craig Stadler, Lanny Wadkins, Jerry Pate and Andy North. After early professional appearances on South Africa's Sunshine Tour, Dennis was readying himself for a shot at PGA Tour qualifying school when he came to a curve on a cart path, and his threewheel buggy tipped him out and left him lying helplessly on the ground.
He could not feel any pain, but he could not get up and he could not move his legs. He would be in hospital for the next four months and when he asked a doctor if there was any hope, he was told that he would never walk again.
A couple of years later Dennis was lying on the sofa, with his head on his father's lap as they watched golf on TV. Dennis was watching his friends, the golfers he competed with for so many years, playing in a tournament. He started to cry.
Dennis' father, Bucky, was a strong man. He had been in the military and had a stiff jaw and warm heart. The sight of his son sobbing in front of the TV was too much for him.
"Let's go and hit some balls," he suggested.
For Dennis lying on the sofa, as low as it is possible to be, and paralysed, hearing these words was enough to shock him out of his depressed state. Before he knew it, Bucky had got him in his chair, thrust his Byron Nelson 3-wood into his hand and was wheeling him across the street.
It started an extraordinary journey that involved using a mixture of home-made engineering, spare parts and cushions to help Dennis learn to hit the ball again from his wheelchair. After many failures and missteps, they arrived at a prototype seat mounted over the rear wheel of an opentopped golf buggy.
This changed the game for Dennis, who could now see a different future. Dennis would hit a few balls, and the onlookers would be suitably impressed, but it was only when he hit a few 'funny' shots that were out of the ordinary, that he really grabbed their attention. Dennis immediately realised that a few trick shots would give his spectators something that they would remember.
It was the birth of what would become the Dennis Walters Golf Show. Dr Gary Wiren, one of the world's best golf educators, became an advocate for Dennis, and it was his intervention in the early years that helped get Dennis a few golf shows. Those few shows turned into more and today with more than 3,000 golf shows under his belt, he can rightly claim to be one of the best in the business.
Dennis prepares for each and every show as he would have prepared for a tournament in his early years as a player. Never once, he says, has he given anything less than his best. With golf shows at Augusta, St Andrews, and with some of the greatest names in golf including Tiger Woods, with whom he has conducted more than 30 clinics to his credit, Dennis readily identifies with his audience.
The golf show has given Dennis a lasting purpose. When he first had his accident, "to even get out of bed would have been a major victory," he says. Today, he has to pinch himself as he rolls onto the ranges of some of the greatest golf clubs worldwide in his specially-customised red, white and blue golf buggy. He has performed in front of thousands, has met four US Presidents, and has been on first name terms with golfing greats such as Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Palmer, Player, Nicklaus and Woods.
"I cannot play the PGA Tour as I had one day hoped, but this is my Tour, I have performed in every state, in Canada, Mexico and the UK," says Dennis. He has had four canine companions, all rescued from animal shelters who have contributed not only to his Golf Show, but also to his life.
"I like to think that, like me, they have had a better life because of golf." Dennis has justly been recognised by his peers, and by the game to which he has devoted his life. In 2018 the USGA granted him the Bob Jones Award in recognition of his spirit, personal character and respect for the game, and earlier this year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"I started doing this for myself, to cope with what I thought at the time was a hopeless situation, but as time has gone by it seems I have been able to help raise awareness of golf for the disabled and bring hope to others – not bad for a T12 Paraplegic," he whispers.
Dennis is just one of 18 golfers, who have shared their story for Mulligan, a book published by the European Disabled Golf Association. To find out more, visit www.edgagolf.com/book