DANVILLE — Tommy Marks was ranked second in the world among blind golfers in 2018 after victories in Rome, Italy, and Nashville, Tennessee.
He won the Italian Blind Open tournament and the US Blind National Championship that year.
Marks, from Danville, will join the links later this month in Pinehurst, North Carolina for the first US Golf Association (USGA) US Adaptive Open.
The tournament is a new national championship that will feature the best disabled golfers in the world. Marks is one of 96 players chosen from nearly 300 entries, representing 12 countries and 29 states, according to Central Susquehanna Sight Services. Players will have various disabilities – arm and leg impairments, multiple limb amputations, visual impairment, intellectual disability, neurological disability, seated players and people of short stature.
Marks said the USGA just added the tournament. It is a 54-hole tournament over three days, from July 18 to 20. This is a move play tournament, in which the cumulative scores of the three days are used to determine the winners.
“This is the next step in bringing golf into the Paralympic Games,” he said.
Marks, 42, said the players were chosen based on their golf handicap and their summary of recent accomplishments.
“They chose a number of people within each disability,” he said. “There are six among the visually impaired and the blind.”
He said that unlike other blind tournaments, this one is not based on visual impairment levels.
Generally, in blind golf events, a B-1 is totally blind, B-2 ranges from the ability to recognize the shape of a hand to visual acuity of 20/600, and B-3, the Marks category, is from visual acuity greater than 20/600 to visual acuity less than 20/200.
All classifications are in the best eye with the best correction, according to the classifications of the US Blind Golf Association (USBGA).
During his last exam, Marks could only see the big E on the eye chart, he said.
Marks, who said he had been golfing since he was 11 or 12 and played on the Danville-area high school team and at Bucknell University as a rookie, said said he was diagnosed at the age of 21 with Stargardt disease, a rare genetic disease and a progressive disease. form of juvenile macular degeneration.
“I think there were signs when I was 17,” he said. “It became really noticeable from the moment I left Colorado to go to school at Penn State.”
He said he took a year and a half off from college and moved to Colorado.
Back on the course
Marks said tournaments are resuming after the COVID-19 pandemic slows.
“I haven’t competed a ton in the last two years because of COVID,” Marks said. “Once a year for the past two years.”
He had hoped to compete in the world championship scheduled for 2020 in South Africa. He said it was postponed to 2021 and then postponed to March 2023, in Cape Town, due to COVID.
He has three tournaments lined up for this year. After Pinehurst, he plans to play in the Vision Cup tournament at the Tournament Players Club (TPC) at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., near Jacksonville, September 18-22.
“It’s the best players in North America against the best players in the rest of the world,” Marks said.
The following month, he plans to travel to the 76th USBGA National Championships in Sacramento, Calif., Oct. 24-26. He said he and his wife could turn this into a vacation.
His father, attorney Robert L. Marks, was training him but gave him up.
“I’m getting too old to help him with his putting,” said Robert Marks, adding with a chuckle, “I can’t find the ball. He’s hitting it too far.
Robert Marks said his son didn’t have time to train last year, due to COVID and work. Tommy Marks is Community and Employee Relations Coordinator at Green Thumb Industries in Danville.
“He’s been training for the last two weeks,” the elder Marks said. “He installed a mat and a net in his yard.”
He said he was excited for Tommy.
“I wish I could be there,” he said.
Tommy’s brother-in-law, Scott Hasenbalg, who is married to Tommy’s sister, Kerry, now trains him.
“Two years ago he coached him in a tournament and they won,” Robert Marks said. “I took Tommy to Italy, where he won.”
“Scott is also a great accomplished golfer,” said Tommy Marks. “He’s in the SUNY New Paltz Hall of Fame for golf and basketball.”
He said having a good coach is so important for blind golfers to help them find the ball and line up shots.
“They also describe the type of shot you hit,” Marks said. “You don’t know if you’re hitting straight or hitting a draw. It helps you line up the ball, your stance, confirm slopes and greens for reading putts. It is so important that this person be mentally and physically prepared.
He said he would miss having his dad coaching him, but he’s glad his brother-in-law is with him.
“Scott and I went to the Vision Cup in British Columbia four years ago,” Marks said. “He’s still a great coach.”