If there was only one thing I could say to describe the current state of the USA Games Level V Golf Tournament, it would be that this is still anybody’s game. The Flutie Foundation sponsored golfers, Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer, came to Seattle as the heavy favorites to win gold and silver medals, and Scott is currently leading the tournament by seven strokes. But Peter Condon of Washington, Brock Aoki of Utah, and Thomas Cleek of Missouri among other golfers have challenged Tyler and Scott through 2 days on a course with greens playing very fast causing many 3-putts and few 4-putts.
Peter Condon is currently in 2nd (+22) after shooting an 82 (+11) in both rounds. Tyler Lagasse is tied for 3rd with Thomas Cleek, and Brock Aoki is in 5th after starting Round 2 as the leader. However, Cleek, Lagasse, and Aoki are all within two strokes of 2nd place.
Unlike Day 1, Tyler and Scott were not paired up. Tyler was paired with Tony Marino, and they started on Hole 3. Scott started on Hole 2 with Chris Lussier and Thomas Cleek.
Despite facing more putting challenges than yesterday, Tyler Lagasse did well again today, shooting an 86. “There were some putts that just didn’t break the way I wanted them to and other times it was just a case of the yips” (Tyler Lagasse). He had some very strong moments, like his birdie on the par 5 hole 11, and an excellent par save on Hole 18, which he said was his best hole.
On hole 18, his drive did not reach the fairway but he made 2 great shots to reach the green in 3 shots despite the long yardage he had to make up on the long and difficult 566 yard par 5 hole.
Tyler did have some very nice drives and had little difficulty sticking the green when he needed to. He pulled out the driver more often, trying to play more aggressively than yesterday. I asked him why he used his driver more and he said, “I just had to be aggressive, I was getting a little bit emotional, I just wanted to push myself to be the best I can possibly be.”
Scott Rohrer played even better than he did in round 1, shooting a 76 (+5) to take the tournament lead. In response to my question about how he thinks he did today vs. yesterday, he said, “I played a lot better than yesterday, I’ve improved somehow over the past day.” He was very consistent, making par on each of the first three holes. Like Tyler, he birdied the 11th. However, he has no doubt in his mind that his best hole was hole 1, which due to the shotgun start on hole 2, he actually ended his round on hole 1. He had a huge drive on the 386 yard par 4 that nearly landed the green in one. He says it was his longest drive in the two tournaments he has played at Willows Run.
For some video footage from the day, including my stand-up live from Willows Run and my interviews with Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer, see below:
Although Scott Rohrer has a 7-stroke lead, we have learned from this week to expect the unexpected and that the leaderboard can shuffle around very quickly. Someone who is in 4th or 5th right now could be the leader in their division by the end of the final round on the 4th of July. Who will take home the gold? Will Scott hold on to the lead for his third straight gold medal at the USA Games, or will Tyler or someone else catch him?
I landed this afternoon in Seattle and after settling into the hotel, I decided to check out the Willows Run Eagles Talon golf course ahead of the level 5 Special Olympics USA golf tournament. When I arrived, I received a warm welcome from the staff. They gave my father the keys to a golf cart so we could tour the 6,800 yard 18-hole golf course that the Level 5 golfers will be competing on from July 2nd through July 4th. We made several stops along the course to take pictures and make a video (see below):
Starting with the Opening Ceremony this Sunday, July 1st, I will be in Seattle to cover the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games on behalf of the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism. As a member of the press, I will follow golfers Tyler Lagasse of Massachusetts and Scott Rohrer of South Carolina. Both golfers are sponsored by the Flutie Foundation this year and as a member of the autism community, I am honored to report on these two amazing golfers and inspiring individuals.
Tyler and Scott have finished 1st and 2nd in each of the last two Special Olympics USA Summer Games (New Jersey 2014 and Nebraska 2010). Look for daily updates on Boston Sports Mania and on Flutie Foundation social media including their blog.
Read below to learn more about Special Olympians Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer.
A Brief Golf History: Tyler Lagasse
Tyler is a 31-year old autistic adult from Tyngsborough, Massachusetts. He 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. He co-authored a book about autism with his mom, published in 2015 called What Do You Say?: Autism with Character. Several times including 2014, along with a few other Special Olympics golfers, Tyler has been invited to the Pro-Am, a PGA event.
Tyler has never competed before on the 2018 Special Olympics course, Willows Run, but he has plenty of experience on 18-hole courses. At the 2017 Pro-Am tournament, he played a round with a personal best score of 70, par for the 18 hole course. He won silver at the 2008 Special Olympics National Golf Invitational in Florida as well as each of the last two USA Summer Games. While Tyler has never won gold on the national stage, he is hungry for his first gold medal. This past week, Tyler noted, “I want that gold medal so badly, I want to do whatever it takes to get it, because I may never have this opportunity again. To me as well as many others coming to Seattle, this is MY Olympics”. Tyler is clear very competitive but in the book he co-authored with his mother Deborah Lagasse, golf is also therapeutic for Tyler.
“Golf sometimes makes me come face to face with my demons inside. I consider golf a tool for dealing with adversity because I have faced endless adversity all my life; most of us do sometimes. Golf also helps me feel good about myself, tests my resilience and mental toughness. I learned so much about myself through golf and it’s given me an identity, something that fits my personality and golf has allowed me to put my personality on display” (Tyler Lagasse). Tyler also writes about every golf tournament in great detail so he was even able to provide me with some of his previous USA Games and Pro-Am stats. He is proud to be sponsored by the Flutie Foundation. “They’ve come out of their way in helping me surpass my fundraising goal for this year’s USA Games. I thank them for their support because they see me as a talented individual rather than one living with autism. And they see the gift that autism has, and that gift is hope” (Tyler Lagasse).
Tyler will be competing starting Monday July 2nd in the Level V Golf Tournament and his biggest competitor in this tournament will likely be Scott Rohrer, who is also being sponsored by the Flutie Foundation.
A Brief Golf History: Scott Rohrer
Scott Rohrer is an autistic adult from York, South Carolina. He has golfed for 20 years and he was 7 when he started. Scott had a personal and Special Olympics best of 71 (-1) in the opening round of the 2010 USA Games. He topped that score at the 2015 Los Angeles World Games. When another golfer beat that record, he only did better the next day. He scored a 60 on a par-66 course to break the Special Olympics World Record. He finished the tournament at a Special Olympics best -12. He has won 7 gold medals on the national stage, including a gold medal in each of the last two USA Games tournaments. Tyler Lagasse earned the silver medal in both of those tournaments. Scott has won medals at other tournaments as well including a bronze medal at the 2014 World Golf Cup.
Scott works on a tree farm with his dad, Jeff in York from Monday to Thursday each week but spends the weekend on the golf course. His golf games against his dad are pretty close but he usually out-drives his dad. His mom Elizabeth is his caddy. Scott can be very streaky. He came back from a triple bogey and bogey to start the day to score a second straight 75 on Day 3 of the 2010 USA Games. Golf brings Scott out of his shell, and people who play with him see him as a competitive golfer not as someone with autism who plays golf.
The big stage as Willows Run is set and now the question is will Scott Rohrer win another gold medal or will Tyler’s hunger and competitive spirit help lead him to victory and his first gold?
Previous Competitions Between Tyler and Scott
2010 USA Games
Scott won gold in this tournament, shooting 71-75-75, while Tyler won silver, shooting 79-78-75.
2012 Pro-Am (Stats courtesy of Tyler Lagasse)
Tyler came in 3rd overall playing with Gary Woodland, shooting a 58 (-13). Scott shot a 64 (-7) playing with Brendan Steele.
2014 USA Games
Scott won gold for the 2nd consecutive USA Games tournament, shooting 76-78-78. Tyler won silver again, shooting 84-81-88.
2014 Pro-Am (Stats courtesy of Tyler Lagasse)
Tyler came in 4th overall playing with Tommy Gainey, shooting a 55 (-16). Scott was not far behind, shooting a 59 (-12) with I.K. Kim.
2016 Pro-Am (Stats courtesy of Tyler Lagasse)
Tyler (with Rod Pampling) and Scott (with Scott Langley) tied for 4th with a 52 (-19).
The Tournament Venue: Willows Run Golf Complex
Willows Run is located in Redmond, Washington, about 20 minutes from downtown Seattle. It includes two 18-hole courses, Eagles Talon and Coyote Creek, both of which are par-72 courses, just like the course that the 2010 USA Games golf tournament was held on. Special Olympics Level V golfers will be competing on Eagles Talon from 8:30 AM-3:30 PM every day from July 2-July 4. The course is over 6,800 yards in total and has a lot of long and narrow tree lined holes so hooking or slicing off the tee could definitely be dangerous. The greens are playing fast, even though it’s been wet the last few days.
There are 12 golfers participating in the high performance stroke play Level V competition, including Tyler and Scott. I have provided a little information on the other golfers in their competition below.
There are two divisions within the Level V high performance competition. Both divisions compete in the same pool, but Division 2 golfers are ranked separately for medals. Tyler and Scott are Division 1, while some of these other golfers are Division 2. Also, the expectation is the each day will begin with a shotgun start so that more golf is ongoing at once, starting at 8:30 AM.
Garrett Stortz, Alaska
Stortz joined Special Olympics in 2007, participating in field hockey. He eventually switched to his favorite sport, golf. He is a member of Division 2 in the high performance stroke play competition. He is eager to represent Alaska in the USA Games. Special Olympics has changed his life as he has met many new people who share his passion for golf. Stortz also participated in Level V Golf at the 2015 World Games in LA and the 2014 USA Games. He won the Division 2 gold in 2014 and Division 2 bronze in 2015.
Joel Murray, Louisiana
Murray is a longtime Special Olympics golfer who will be part of Division 2 in the Level V high performance competition. He has been invited to the Pro-Am before and was not far behind Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer the last time he competed in a Special Olympics national tournament (Nebraska 2010). He had a personal best 18-hole score of 73 in Nebraska and won gold in a lower division. He will also be competing in the Level V tourney in Seattle. Murray is a longtime Special Olympics golfer. Murray won the 2009 National Golf Invitational Level V Play and had the lowest score in Pro-Am history in 2013.
Travis Curtis, Maine
Curtis joined Special Olympics Maine in 2007. He will be participating in Division 1 of the Level V High Performance competition, but he has also played Unified golf in the past. He came close to a medal at each of the last two USA Games and is hopeful that he can bring a medal home from Seattle. He has won gold in the state competition each year since he started in 2007.
Thomas Cleek, Missouri
Cleek has been a multi-sport Special Olympian for over 10 years. He won gold in a lower division in the 2014 USA Games, where he last played on the national stage, but this year Cleek will be part of Division 1, where he will have tougher medal competition like golfers Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer. Can he take home a medal as he moves up into the highest division?
Chris Lussier, Rhode Island
Nicknamed the Mayor, Lussier has been competing in many sports for team Rhode Island over the last 10 years. He has also competed in unified competitions with his dad as his partner. They have developed a closer bond by competing together. Chris also met his girlfriend, Amy, and many other friends from Special Olympics. He won gold in the Level III Unified golf competition back in 2014. He also won a medal in golf at the 2010 USA Games, and he even won gold in the unified golf competition at the 2011 World Summer Games. This year, he will compete in the 2nd division of the Level V high performance individual stroke play competition.
Miles Stroud, Texas
Stroud has participated in multiple sports at Special Olympics for ten years. He says his favorite sport is definitely golf though. Miles has a handicap of 9.2 as he enters the 2nd division of the Level V high performance individual stroke play competition. He is a huge fan of all Texas A&M sports, and he cheers for the Aggies in his down time. He won gold as a part of Division 4 of the Level V competition at the 2012 Special Olympics National Golf Invitational with a 72-hole score of 301. Will Stroud take home a medal in Seattle as part of Division 2?
Brock Aoki, Utah
Aoki has been golfing since age 6 or 7, and will compete in Division 1 of the Level V High Performance competition. He plays golf in nearly all his free time, though he has just started a full time job as a chef. He may be dedicated to golf, but can he keep up with the scratch golfers in his division such as Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer?
Tony Marino, Utah
Marino started competing in Special Olympics at age 13. He will compete in Division 2 of the Level V High Performance competition. Marino has played as far away as China in Special Olympics golf. Marino was paired up with Tyler Lagasse in the Opening Round of the 2008 National Golf Invitational, and they got along well. Tony has also been a coach for Special Olympics. Marino is happy to travel around the world and participate in multiple sports thanks to Special Olympics.
Grace Anne Braxton, Virginia
Braxton is a long time Special Olympics golfer and swimmer. She has participated since 1981, and that was before Tyler Lagasse or Scott Rohrer was born. She was ranked #1 among female Special Olympic golfers in the world in both 2007 and 2011. She won the Division 2 gold at the 2010 USA Games and has participated in the World Games in 1991, 2007, and 2011, and won gold in both 2007 and 2011 when she was ranked #1 among females. She also participated in golf at the 2014 USA Games. Braxton will participate in the Division 2 High Performance Individual Stroke Tournament again this year in Seattle. Will she take home another medal?
Peter Condon, Washington
Condon has been playing golf since 2006. He will be part of Division 1, Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer’s division, in the Level V High Performance Individual Stroke Tournament. Condon has loved golf ever since he started and is eager to participate in his home state in this year’s USA Games. The question is, has he played on Willows Run before, and will home state advantage help him win a medal in a division that includes some of the country’s best?
Stay tuned for updates live from Seattle as the story unfolds.