Golf has been
a progressive experience for Matt Lees, just as it is for most people
who play the game. There was no ah-ha moment for Lees when his scores
dropped dramatically. But the patience he has shownand consistent
improvementsince he was 11 years old has him now playing at
a professional level.
This year, Lees spent spring and summer as the assistant golf pro
at Pala Mesa Resort, just north of San Diego, CA. His daily job includes
giving private golf lessons and working on his game. He is on staff
with Cleveland Golf as well, so he uses the companys clubs and
attends demonstrations to other golfers.
Bottom line: Lees plays a lot of golf, and gets paid to do it. Hes
living his dream, but it hasnt always been par for the course.
Its definitely been a very big test of patience,
Lees said. Its hard for me to explain to people how straining
it is on the mind sometimes, just with controlling my emotions in
times of patience and having the mental fortitude to keep going. But
at the same time, I have plenty of drive to want to do it.
Lees was drawn to golf because of the sports difficulty. Its
an individual game, and Lees knew that if he could succeed at golf
people would have less reason to question his physical abilities.
Lees was born without a left hand and faced his share of difficult
times as a kid growing up in Philadelphia, where his peers often poked
fun. Golf, however, allowed him to seclude himself, away from the
questions, stares and remarks.
The reason I got into golf is still kind of the reason I keep
doing it right now, said Lees, who also played Little League
baseball and soccer but always went back to golf. When I was
a young kid growing up, sometimes people would give me a hard time
about it. I was a pretty good athlete. Golf caught my interest because
it was the hardest sport. I thought if I can beat somebody in golf,
then that was satisfaction in itself, and that was one of the things
that drove me to it.
Lees swung a club with his right hand only and mastered the technique.
As he grew older, he began trying to create a sleeve and prosthetic
hand to add greater power to his swing. After about seven different
setups, he partnered with Dudas Diving Duds, a scuba-diving shop in
West Chester, PA, near his home. The final product was created with
fabric similar to a scuba-diving wetsuit. The hand area was a round
metal slot below the wrist where the golf club grip was inserted.
Velcro strips held the sleeve in place.
Once Lees got adjusted to the new sleeve, he began booming the golf
ball. He increased his drives from 120 yards to 185 yards. Frustration,
however, set in.
Actually, it made me a little angry because when I finally got
a device that worked and started playing with it, when I hit the ball
it upset me more, Lees said. I could hit it well and see
how I could hit the ball with that prosthetic, but I would think about
what I would have been able to do with two hands.
Lees father, Jim Lees, said he can see that his son still wrestles
with his disability at times.
Performing has been a natural talent for Lees. He used to deliver
inspirational talks as a teenager, and one even spoke to the PGA.
Golf also gave him confidence in his abilities. He said he didnt
mind it when people stared at his prosthetic hand because it gave
him a platform to promote what he could do rather than what he couldnt.
Lees decided his platform needed to be larger, so he packed his bags
and moved west to attend the Professional Golfers Career College near
San Diego. The program serves a dual role by helping students improve
their game to a professional level while also educating them on working
in all areas of golf course management. The finished product is a
degree in professional golf course management, which gives students
the credentials to work in all positions at a golf course from course
maintenance to lessons to the business side of running the pro shop.
During his time at the school, Lees decided to abandon his prosthetic
and go back to swinging a club with one arm.
One, the prosthetic never felt like a natural part of my body.
Two, it was a lot of hassle when I was playing, Lees said. The
materials would make me sweat a lot and putting it on and off all
the time was a hassle for me. I put it aside and worked at the driving
With that device, I can bomb it with anybody out there, probably
300 yards, Lees said. The way Im golfing now, I
swing one-handed and its a little bit easier for me. I feel
like I can play just as good or better one-handed as I did when I
had the device.
When I first started without it, my scoring average playing
with the device and playing without it was a difference of four of
five strokes. The device definitely helped me hit the ball further,
but it didnt necessarily help me get the ball in the hole with
less strokes, which is the name of the game.
Lees shoots in the mid-70s now with a 4-handicap.
I play as a right-handed golfer, so its like a forehand
if youre playing tennis, Lees explained. Actually,
just the dynamics of the swing and the technique that I use, really
what brings the club down to the ball is centrifugal force. I swing
really slow. My swing comes down to the smoothness and the tempo and
the timing of getting the club into position at the right time. Youd
be amazed to see how easy you can swing with the right technique and
how far you can hit the ball.
Lees aims to play golf for an audience, whether thats on a national
or regional tour or hosting exhibitions while representing a golf
People are amazed he can hit the ball close to 300 yards and
consistently, Jim Lees said of his son. He has a lot to
offer, and hopefully hell get his satisfaction out of helping
other people play the game of golf.
Jim Lees said he and his wife, Laurie, will continue to support their
youngest sons dreams. They know he wants to play competitively.
In fact, Matt Lees is in the beginning stages of the three-year process
to obtain a PGA Tour Card.
I want to have an audience that will watch me hit golf balls
and get some kind of motivation or inspiration out of it, Lees
said. I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching peoples
reaction to what I can do. I also know that I am leaving something
in those peoples mindsa little inspiration or something.
Theyre going to take something away from that day and see what
Lees has come full circle from gravitating toward golf in order to
get away from other people to now striving to play golf so others
can watch himand be inspired. His aim is that others will see
him play and know their dreams are reachable, too.
by Josh Pate
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