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Golfers travel from around the world for 3rd U.S. Adaptive Golf Open

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This week the U.S. Golf Association is holding its third annual Adaptive Open Championship. Disabled golfers from 32 states and 11 countries are in Newton, Kan., vying to capture a title in different disabled categories. Just two years after becoming paralyzed in a skiing accident, a 20-year-old golf phenom from Utah hopes to repeat his championship win. Reporter Greg Echlin has this profile.

GREG ECHLIN, BYLINE: In the adaptive golf tournament, golfers have physical and intellectual impairments. Max Togisala Jr., the defending champion in the seated players category, was injured and paralyzed in a skiing accident. His second-round score of 70 last year shattered the record for the lowest score by a seated player.

MAX TOGISALA JR: I was kind of just going out there just to feel it out and just have fun and not have high expectations. But to win it, it was a pretty big shock for me.

ECHLIN: Two years ago, Togisala was looking forward to his high school graduation and playing college golf. Instead, an Idaho ski accident changed everything except his passion for the game.

MAX TOGISALA JR: You're never going to have the perfect swing or the perfect shot. You're always improving on something, which I love.

ECHLIN: Togisala has been playing golf since the age of 3. Now 20, he has a strong upper body appearance with thick arms. Before the accident, he played basketball, baseball and football, then chose golf over them all. He watched televised coverage of the first U.S. Adaptive Open from his hospital bed. His mom, Amber, remembers that moment.

AMBER TOGISALA: He's like, I'm playing in that next year. And we're like, OK, OK, we'll make it happen. We have no idea how, but we'll make it happen, you know?

ECHLIN: These days, Togisala buckles up in his electric motor vehicle, called a VertaCat. It lifts him to a standing position when he tees off.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Meet you on the putting green.

MAX TOGISALA JR: Yep.

ECHLIN: Amber says her youngest son has always been a quick learner. But his father, Max Sr., says he's still amazed at the transition his son has made to adaptive golf.

MAX TOGISALA SR: To learning how to swing with half of your body, learning to swing with a contrapment, the VertaCat that he uses that helps him get around the course, has been really great to see.

ECHLIN: Togisala says it took around six months to perfect his game from a seated position, and he also worked to restore his self-confidence.

MAX TOGISALA JR: It was weird playing in these tournaments again just because I was still, like, new to my accident. And so I was just, like, thinking, like, what are people thinking of my swing right now? What are they thinking about this and that?

ECHLIN: While working to perfect his swing in this phase of his life, Togisala says skiing remains a passion. So one year after the accident, he returned to the same mountain in Idaho and skied from a seated position.

MAX TOGISALA JR: It was an experience. It was - I would say it was just overwhelming relief of just the hard days that I've had, and it was an emotional day.

ECHLIN: These golf days are more joyful.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Nice. Good job.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Good up and down.

ECHLIN: And now Max Togisala hopes his game inspires others and helps him capture another championship in the U.S. Adaptive Open.

For NPR News, I'm Greg Echlin in Newton, Kan.

(SOUNDBITE OF KSI SONG, "VOICES (FEAT. OLIVER TREE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Greg Echlin