By Diane Y. Welch
Blind golf is played all over the world and Rancho Santa Fe now boasts a blind golf national champion as one of its residents.
Rancho Santa Fe resident Linda Port became the U.S. Blind Golf Association Championship low gross winner in her sight category last August. She posted a two-day total of 175 in the V1 B3 division — best sighted of the visually impaired — to claim the national championship award at a tournament held at Exeter Country Club in Rhode Island.
She was vying for the title mostly against men.
“There aren’t many women who compete in blind golf — it’s more of a man’s world,” said Port. “But that makes it more fun.”
In September, Port went on to win second gross in her division at the USBGA Kentucky Regional Championship, shooting a two-day total of 173.
Because of these recent accomplishments, she has been selected to participate in the IBGA 2015 Resmeyer Cup (Ryder Cup format) North America (Canada and USA) versus the rest of the world. The competition will be held in Italy next summer.
Port is able to play golf at the championship level with the aid of Fred Port, her husband, who serves as her sighted coach. Coaches are able to watch the ball and find it, align players and the putt, and advise on distances, said Port
Her sight impairment — cone dystrophy — is genetic. She inherited the condition from her father, who was legally blind from the age of 19, but who lived a full life until his passing at age 93.
At this stage in the disease, Port is still able to play the game as a partially sighted player. But she does needs someone to find the ball after her hit.
As she is lining up, through limited peripheral vision, she can see the ball from the corner of her eye. But when she looks directly at the ball, it is hidden from sight.
Port is able to strike the ball as her brain remembers its location. “It’s hard to explain,” she said. “It’s almost like I can see with my memory. It even surprises me.”
Not wanting to overanalyze this phenomenon, Port reminds herself not to question the process, instead focusing on her swing.
The Ports began golfing together when they joined The Vintage Club in Indian Wells in 1989. Linda Port took lessons until she felt confident enough to play on the course. No stranger to athletic competition — she played tennis in high school and college — Port was eager to improve her game to be able to compete. She became active in the Ladies Golf Association and is a past team captain of the Vintage Ladies Golf Team, winning long-drive honors numerous times.
Port’s golfing career went on hiatus for five years as she served as project manager for Ely Callaway, founder and CEO of Callaway Golf Company, who was writing his memoir in the mid-1990s. They traveled extensively together, gathering research for the book, but in the end, Callaway opted not to have it published.
Through family obligations, being responsible for aging parents and adult children who were producing grandchildren, Port returned to golf seriously only about three years ago, she said.
Her sight had deteriorated significantly, and Port questioned whether she should continue to play golf at all. She took two years to consider competing as a blind golfer.
But she accepted her situation and has been very happy with her decision to continue to play golf, which has given her the rare opportunity to be competitive forever, “as I can play with my own kind of people,” she said.