Inspirational World Golf Hall of Famer still firing in competition: ‘There’s a lot of dead people who would love to … shoot 83’

PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida — Few people on this planet have hit more golf shots than Jupiter resident Dennis Walters, certainly not from a wheelchair.

Walters estimates he has hit more than 7 million shots during the last 47 years since he became paralyzed after a golf cart accident. More than 99 percent of those swings came during trick-shot shows that Walters started doing after his dream of becoming a professional golfer was shattered.

On Monday, it was time to deal with the other 1 percent – playing tournament golf. The World Golf Hall of Famer shot a 12-over 83 during the first round of the USDGA Championship at PGA Golf Club, and he tried to keep it in perspective.

“I’m 74 and I’ve been sitting in a wheelchair for 50 years, and I shot 83,” Walters said. “There’s a lot of dead people who would love to be in my shoes and shoot 83.

“I’m not complaining about a darn thing.”

Of course, Walters wishes his score would have been lower. So does every other golfer.

But the 83 he shot on the Ryder Course was good enough to leave him tied for second, two shots behind Justin Miller in the Seated Division. Walters is the defending champion here and won the Seated Division title in the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open in 2022.

“I really did hit some good shots, but not with the scoring shots,” Walters said. “I almost holed a bunker shot, but I missed a 1-foot putt. I didn’t drive it as good, and that’s usually the best part of my game.”

So what does Walters do after the six-hour round? He heads to the putting green to work on his short game.

“He played bad today, and he’s out here grinding like Bernhard Langer would be,” said Russ Holden, who used to caddie for Langer and serves as Walters’ assistant on the course. “His drive never stops. And what’s amazing is he hasn’t played ‘regular golf’ in 47 years. He epitomizes what a World Golf Hall of Famer should be.”

Each of the 90 players competing in the USGDA Championship has overcome plenty to tee it up this week at PGA Golf Club. Watching golfers swing with one arm, one leg, in a wheelchair or with neurological issues is a sight to behold.

Even if most wish they were elsewhere.

“This is one golf tournament you don’t want to be eligible for,” Walters said. “But if you are, and you’re here, that’s a heckuva thing.”

Walters said people thought he was crazy when he started doing his trick-shot shows across the country. He did more than 150 a year in his prime, and he will do more than 50 this year.

He never expected to someday be playing in competition against other disabled golfers. The USDGA, run by the U.S. Disabled Golf Association and Presented by the PGA of America, is in its sixth year; the USGA-run U.S. Disabled Open will hold its third event this summer.

“I’m so grateful for the PGA of America and the U.S. Disabled Golf Association for giving us this opportunity,” Walters said. “It’s not so much for me than for the younger ones. It’s great they have it and there’s an avenue open for competitive golf.”

Chris Biggins of Birmingham, Ala., leads the men’s overall division after shooting an even-par 71 to give him a two-shot advantage over defending champion Chad Pfeifer, 2022 champion Eli Villanueva and Albert Bowker. Five-time PGA Tour champion Ken Green (74) of West Palm Beach is tied for fifth with Kenny Bontz.

“I have to be more aggressive with my irons,” said Green, who had four bogeys and one birdie. “It’s hard to make birdies when you’re not hitting your irons close.”

Reigning U.S. Adaptive Open champion Ryanne Jackson of Seminole (80) leads the women’s division by a shot over Natasha Stasiuk. Defending champion Bailey Bish is tied for third with Amanda Cunha.

Villanueva is tied for the Senior Division lead with George Willoughby (73) of Danville, Va. The 54-hole event runs through Wednesday.

The USDGA Championship is run by the U.S. Disabled Golf Association and Presented by the PGA of America.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek