2022 Special Olympics USA Games Preview: Lagasse is hungry for gold

The Special Olympics USA Games kick off in Orlando next week. Over 5,500 athletes will be competing in 19 different sports. As a credentialed member of the press, I hope to take it all in. I’ll primarily be following the story of one of those athletes: Tyler Lagasse.

Lagasse is a 35-year old autistic adult from Tyngsborough, Massachusetts. He is a three-time silver medalist in the most competitive level of Special Olympics golf. Each of those times he finished second to Scott Rohrer of South Carolina.

Lagasse, like in 2018, will be sponsored by the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism and alongside me and several others, he is now a Flutie Fellow.

Rohrer will not be competing this year, and Lagasse is hungry for gold. However, the gold medal won’t necessarily be a cake walk for him. Lagasse still has to fend off a field of 26 other Level 5 golfers. “Winning gold [is going to be the biggest challenge of this trip], plain and simple,” Lagasse said. “You’re not only competing against yourself, you’re competing against the whole country. The challenges are going to be great but the rewards would be greater.”

Read below to learn more about Lagasse’s preparation for this tournament, the course he’ll be playing on, and the other golfers he’ll face off against.

Lagasse further improves his golf game

Lagasse in 2018 at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle

The last time I covered Lagasse was in 2018 at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. He was already an experienced 18-hole golfer when at the time as he had won Silver at the USA Games 2 consecutive Special Olympics.

Tyler began golfing in 2003 and has traveled to Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, Nebraska, and several other places for Special Olympics tournaments.  He is a member of the Special Olympics hall of fame, won an honorary ESPY in 2017, and was even featured on a Golf Channel program in 2010. Several times including 2014, along with a few other Special Olympics golfers, Tyler has been invited to the Pro-Am, a PGA event.

In the 2018 USA Games, he shot a 79-86-79 for the silver medal. Since then, Lagasse has further improved his golf game. He credits much of this improvement to an increase in the amount of time he has been able to spend training both on and off the golf course.

“In 2018, I was still a student at UMass Lowell while in 2022 I have a part-time job which allows me more time to physically and mentally prepare for this year’s games,” Lagasse said.

Lagasse made sure to squeeze in a lot of golfing before heading down to Orlando. However, mental preparation is also a key part of Lagasse’s success on the golf course.

“I try to remember not to get too hard on myself, a mistake that’s hurt me in the past,” Lagasse said. “But I just try to relax, concentrate on the task at hand, and take it one hole at a time.”

On Wednesday, this mental preparation helped him as he shot a personal best score of 67 on an 18-hole course. Lagasse will look to carry this success into Orlando. Let’s take a look at the course he’ll be playing on as he looks to improve on his 2018 scores.

The Course: Crooked Cat at Orange County National Golf Center

Image via oncgolf.com

All of this year’s golf will take place at the Orange County National Golf Center near Orlando, Florida, located about 6 miles northwest of Walt Disney World, where Special Olympians will be staying. It contains two 18-hole courses, Crooked Cat and Panther Lake. Crooked Cat is the course that Level 1, 3, and 5 Special Olympics golfers will be playing on. This course can be challenging due to significant elevation changes throughout the fairways. However, while 2018’s course (Eagle’s Talon at Willows Run Golf Complex in Seattle) had tree-lined narrow fairways, this is a more open course.

While Lagasse is unsure how the course will affect him until he plays on it, he knows it will allow him more freedom in terms of shot selection.

“I’m free to use my driver and 3-wood and I can forgive myself for misses because it’s more wide open,” Lagasse said. “I just have to play my game, stick to the strategy, and hopefully it’ll work out in the end.”

Weather conditions will also differentiate this course from Willows Run. Lagasse felt the weather was rather comfortable in Seattle, with high temperatures averaging around 70 degrees. This time, high temperatures are looking to be in the 90’s, though golfers may avoid the peak of the heat as most players will start playing early in the morning.

Below is some information about some of the other golfers who will be competing alongside Lagasse.

Familiar Faces (Competed in 2018)

Condon has been playing golf since 2006. In 2018, he was part of Division 1, Tyler Lagasse’s division, in the Level 5 High Performance Individual Stroke Tournament. Playing in his home state of Washington, he finished with the same total score as Lagasse (244). While golfers will not be split into divisions this time around until after Monday’s round, Condon may be competing with Lagasse for a medal once again. Will he be able to adjust to the Orlando heat and keep up with Lagasse?
Curtis joined Special Olympics Maine in 2007.  He will be participating in the Level 5 High Performance competition as he did in 2018, but he has also played Unified golf in the past. Curtis has won gold in the Maine state tournament for 12 consecutive years, and will look to take it to the next level as he competes for his first gold on the national scale.
Braxton is a longtime Special Olympics golfer and swimmer. She has participated since 1981, before Tyler Lagasse was even born. She participated in the USA Games in 2010 (where she won Division 2 gold), 2014, and 2018 as well as the World Games in 1991, 2007, 2011, and 2019. She won gold in 2007 and 2011 competing against all female golfers. When she competed against male and female golfers in 2019, she still came home with silver. While it is still to be determined what division she will compete in, she will look to bring home another medal no matter who her competition is.

Other Competitors to Watch for

Three of the competitors are playing in their home state which could be a factor like it was for Condon in 2018. Below is the list of golfers to watch for with a few highlights about them.

  • Vince Egan, Colorado
    • Has competed in Special Olympics basketball and alpine skiing as well
    • Won gold in alpine skiing at 2017 World Games
    • Has played golf in his spare time and is competing at Level 5 this year
  • Matthew Glumac, Southern California
    • Autistic golfer who vlogs about his golf experiences
    • Won gold in 9-hole competition at SoCal state games in 2019 (shot a 67)
    • Has since shot a 68 (-4) on an 18-hole course
    • Will compete in 18-hole golf at 2022 USA Games
  • Ian Kelley, Florida
    • Has been golfing in Special Olympics for 7.5 years
    • First USA Games
    • Before the USA Games, worked with John Brown, one of just 352 PGA professionals
    • Per WFTV in Central Florida, Brown sees “massive upside” in Kelley’s game
  • Ryan Luck, Florida
    • Won silver at 2015 World Games in Los Angeles
    • Golfs daily with his dad, Robin
  • Jonathan Baylor, West Virginia
    • 8-year Special Olympian in basketball, golf, and softball
    • First time at USA Games for any sport
  • Nathan Cheverton, Tennessee
    • Has competed in six different Special Olympic sports at varied levels over the last 36 years
  • Drew Dormagen, West Virginia
    • Competed in World Games golf back in 1999, his first year with Special Olympics
    • Has continued Special Olympics golf at various levels leading up to 2022 USA Games
  • John Flynn, South Carolina
    • Went to USA Games in 2014 as a basketball player
    • Returning as a golfer in 2022
  • Steven Foley, New York
    • Won in 9-hole golf (red level) at New York state competition in 2021
    • Will switch to 18-hole golf for the USA Games in 2022
  • Brett Geiger, New York
    • Competed at national level in Team Brightspot Unified Golf Challenge in preparation for the USA Games
  • Andrew Hay, New York
    • Won in 9-hole golf (blue level) at New York state competition in 2021
    • Will switch to 18-hole golf for the USA Games in 2022
  • Andrew Johnson, South Carolina
    • Won silver in unified golf with his dad at 2018 USA Games
    • Will compete in Level 5 by himself at 2022 USA Games
  • Michael Ladieu, Florida
    • Has fetal alcohol syndrome but refuses to let it limit him
    • Played at 2021 Florida state golf tournament leading up to USA Games
  • Adam Leitko, Texas
    • Played level 5 golf at 2019 Special Olympics Fall Classic
    • Will take his talents to USA Games at the same level this year
  • Shawn Palmer, New Mexico
    • Has participated in seven Special Olympic sports
    • Works at local golf course and has gained golf experience over the last few years
  • Ben Purick, New York
    • Won gold in 2021 Special Olympics New York games as a Level 5 golfer
    • First USA Games despite golfing for 19 years
  • Andrew Williams, Tennessee
    • Has been competing in Special Olympics for 16 years
    • Won bronze in golf at 2010 USA Games
  • Graham Wright, Virginia
    • Has competed in basketball and softball as well
    • Has been in Special Olympics for 33 years, not all golf though

Lagasse is Ready to go

Lagasse has a competitive field of golfers to fight for gold with, but it seems he is up for the challenge. I spoke with Tyler briefly just before he left for Orlando and he said he’s ready to go for Gold.

His excitement remains high today because when he landed in Orlando, NFL legend Peyton Manning greeted him soon after and he had the chance for a photo opportunity (see below)!

Round 1 is Monday so stay tuned here to learn how Lagasse channels his energy towards his golf game.

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