When they finished their putts on the 18th hole, Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer extended their right arms and tightly gripped hands. It’s a brotherhood on the golf course that began when they first played some rounds together at a tournament in 2010.
The final part of their level-five trio, Travis Curtis, walked over and received a firm handshake and a pat on the back from both of his new friends.
That was the scene on the first day of the Special Olympics USA Games on Monday at Willows Run Golf Club in Redmond. The opening ceremony for the games took place July 1 at Husky Stadium and then a multitude of sports got under way on July 2 and will run through July 6 around the Seattle area.
“They’re easy going people, the kind of guys I like to get along with,” said Lagasse, 31, from Massachusetts, of the threesome.
“They’re awesome, no doubt,” chipped in Rohrer, 29, from South Carolina.
Curtis, 29, who hails from Maine, said he was elated to golf with the others while Rohrer noted that they stayed focused on their games despite discussing a variety of topics along the course.
It was a tough round for Curtis, who said he’d rebound on the next day.
“(I’ll) try to concentrate more and try to hit the ball better, try to leave our putts better on the greens,” said Curtis, who noted that Willows Run is a nice course.
Lagasse and Rohrer added that they golfed decent rounds, and would handle things better the rest of the way. Lagasse didn’t make any birdies, but was quick to praise his fellow golfers for notching a few birdies.
It’s all about harmony at the Special Olympics for the golfers, who play the course with their unified partners.
Justin Kautz, Special Olympics guest services manager, said the competition was fair on Monday’s crazy weather day that saw rain, sun and wind invade the course throughout the rounds. He added that along with the athletes and their partners swinging for success, many volunteers — there are 10,000-plus staffed for all the events around the Seattle area — worked hard to help things run smoothly.
Kautz enjoys watching the participants step up to the tee and give it their best shot.
“I think our technical delegate said it best: ‘If you’re not smiling, you’re not playing golf.’ If you have a bad shot, just turn your smile on, you won’t hit a bad shot your next shot. Just go out there and have fun,” he said.
Matt Rueter has partnered with athlete William Mullican for the last three years and the two Texans always have a stellar time on the golf course. Rueter’s assessment of the superb Willows Run course is that the greens were faster than what they’re used to in Austin, but the camaraderie remains the same wherever they roam.
“I will tell that I’ve done a lot of cool stuff and met a lot of cool people in my life, but this is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Rueter said. “This is for some of us a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”
It’s the second Special Olympics for Mullican, 21, who has been golfing for seven years. Support from his parents, Rueter and the other competitors/friends gives him a boost during events.
“Golf is my life,” said Mullican, noting that he works hard on staying focused.
Unified partner TJ Trimeloni of South Carolina said that relationship building is key to the Special Olympics. Trimeloni played alongside athlete Jennifer Corley, who unleashed a solid round on Monday, much better than his results, he laughed.
“It’s fantastic. Special Olympics is probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life, with the exception of marrying my wife,” Trimeloni said. “To work with these athletes, it’s such an unconditional love that they have for the folks that work with them.”
Andrew Johnson, 18, from South Carolina stood tall and smiled while his dad and unified partner, Todd Johnson, discussed their Special Olympics journey, from the opening ceremony to the golf course.
Todd said he experienced chills of emotion the whole time.
“The spirit of inclusiveness and love and support is… everybody’s competing, but nobody’s frustrated or angry. It’s all, ‘I wanna do well, but I want you to do well, too’ and that’s so rare in today’s world,” he said.
Andrew said he’s had a great time with his dad and likes watching people enjoy the game of golf.
“It’s kinda wild,” Andrew said of the Special Olympics scene as he glanced, wide-eyed around Willows Run. “It’s cool meeting new people. I did all right, had some good putts and some chips there. I think I’ll finish off strong.”
Todd looked at Andrew — who had life-threatening health issues as a child — and their smiles widened as each second passed.
“To see him participating in Special Olympics and blossoming like he is, that’s absolutely priceless in my world,” Todd said.