Lugg makes historic Special Olympian debut
South Africa Special Olympics gold medallist Thomas Lugg set a new benchmark for Special Olympians world-wide when he made a historic debut in the 2013 Sanlam South African Amateur Championship at Country Club Johannesburg this week.
The world’s No 1 Special Olympian golfer moved one step closer to his long-term goal to compete in the pro ranks when he lined up alongside the country’s top amateurs in the 36-hole Stroke Play Qualifier of the South African Golf Association’s flagship event on Sunday and Monday.
Lugg’s achievement was made more significant by the fact that he qualified for the championship on merit, having shot a 67 at Glenvista to claim one of 25 spots on offer to a 42-man field
Although the 23-year-old Zwartkops golfer failed to qualify for the match play stage, he tied for 119th on 16-over-par 160, bettering the scores of 19 players with rounds of 82 and 78.
“I’ve dream of playing in a real golf tournament against normal golfers and this was a dream come true for me,” he gushed.
“We should never feel limited, just because we are intellectually challenged. Golf is for everyone and this experience as made me even more determined to make it to the pro ranks one day.”
Lugg added that although the two rounds were tough, he still had a lot of fun.
“I enjoyed getting to know some of the amateurs and I had a lot of fun. But it was very tough. I think when Dale Hayes talks about keeping it in the fairways on his programme, he has to be talking about the Rocklands course, because this course is very long.
“If you don’t hit the fairway, you are in trouble. Could have been better, though. I played better in the second round because I was more accurate off the tee, but I missed seven or eight birdie putts.”
Lugg is South Africa’s only Special Olympian to have represented the country and won gold three times. He took first place at the 2007 Special Olympic World Summer Games in Shanghai and again in 2011 in Athens. He also claimed golf at the 2009 Special Olympics Golf Tournament in Taipei.
Lugg is currently enrolled on a partial bursary at the Gary Player School for Champions, where he practices alongside the country’s No 1 amateur, Haydn Porteous, who won the Stroke Play Qualifier on Monday.
Danny Baleson from the Gary Player Golf Experience at the World of Golf says that since Lugg enrolled in September, he has made great strides.
“His handicap has dropped from three to scratch,” Baleson said. “Tommy has a great short game and is very accurate into the green, but he didn’t have much length. He was been working tirelessly with our head-coach, Adriaan van Pletzen, on moving through the swing and his swing and distance has also improved.”
Baleson explained Lugg’s coaching programme is structured around his autistic tendencies.
“Tommy thrives in a repetitive structure, so we work on one thing at a time which helps him to properly assimilate the information,” he said.
“Tom was taught to play fairway, green, two putt golf, so we are working on bringing more depth into his game. But don’t imagine that Tom is slow.
“He was playing a round with Sipho Bujela last year, just before Sipho turned professional. Sipho told Tom after the turn that it was time to start firing at the pins and proceeded to show him what that meant.
“Tom came off the course and told us that he needed to ‘start firing at the pins’ and we noticed, almost with immediate effect, that his score average started to improve. When something catches on with Tom, he is unstoppable. That’s why his dream of playing in the pro ranks is very probable.”
Lugg will be competing in the Northern Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play Championship at Randpark in March. “We definitely want to give Tom more opportunities to play on the local amateur circuit and the chance to get used to the different environment,” Baleson said.
“Luckily, he doesn’t go into a depression if he has a bad round; all he cares about is having fun and having the chance to play golf.”
Lugg will be around this week to support stable mate, Haydn Porteous, and will catch the pro action on the weekend at the Tshwane Open. “On Monday I have to start practicing hard for my next tournament in March,” he said. “Every morning, 06h20, for the next couple of weeks.”
As well as representing South Africa at the next Special Olympics, Tom has a long term goal to become the first Special Olympics golfer to play in a professional tournament.
And he also wants to play against a certain professional golfer.
“I really want to play against Tiger Woods,” he said. “My moto is ‘Watch out Tiger, I am coming to get you’.”