Before understanding that Dawson Booth, his Augusta University teammate and roommate, was blind in one eye, Brock Hoover had played golf with him around ten times. Hoover had gone in for an usual fist-bump and needed to yell “Dawson!” to gain his attention.
“I’m sorry,” Booth apologized. “My right eye is blind.”
Booth’s lack of depth perception means he sometimes misses the other person’s hand totally, making handshakes unpleasant.
Booth was diagnosed with uveitis, an inflammation of the central layer of the eye, when he was three years old. He had cataract surgery two years later and was diagnosed with glaucoma when he was twelve years old. The underlying illness, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, resulted in a lifetime of eyesight difficulties, culminating in six surgeries during his junior year of high school.
Booth’s right eye had to be sewn back together with a synthetic graft manufactured in a lab during one especially horrific incident.
“It’s what I call the bionic eye,” he said.
When it came time to choose a college, Booth, a former baseball pitcher, had given up on his dream of playing collegiate golf and had decided to study in mechanical engineering at Georgia, following in his father’s footsteps. He played one round of golf with a friend in Athens who used to play on a women’s club team but had mostly retired from competitive golf.
When the COVID-19 epidemic struck, Booth returned to Augusta, Georgia, to live with his parents at Champions Retreat. He resumed playing with a friend who had played collegiately at USC-Aiken, and was invited to play a game of golf with PGA Tour pros Luke List and Henrik Norlander, as well as PGA Tour Champions player Scott Parel, one day.
“They were thinking who is this kid?” Booth remarked after birdieing four of the first five holes.
All three pros contacted Augusta head coach Jack O’Keefe about Booth, pleading with him to take a look at the kid.
“I believe he shot 68 and beat or equaled all of them,” O’Keefe, a former PGA Tour player, remarked.
Booth was given a second opportunity at a childhood goal when O’Keefe accepted their offer. Booth is now a sophomore on the athletic field and a junior in the classroom.
“He’s just been a fantastic young man,” O’Keefe added. “A true student-athlete who prioritizes academics over athletics.” He also prioritizes his faith… having to cope with what he’s had to deal with from a young age, he’s been a big inspiration to a lot of the players on the team, including myself.”
Booth is one of the team’s most naturally talented players, according to O’Keefe. He can hit it a mile, but he’s learning to slow down his swing speed to avoid large numbers.
Booth relies heavily on his feet to determine the level of the ground and slope due to his vision impairment.
“I have to feel and do what other people can see, feel, and do,” he stated.
Last fall, Booth competed in four events for the Jaguars, averaging 75.83 points.
“The most important thing is to try to calm him down a little bit,” O’Keefe added. “He’s desperate for it.”
Booth’s current Plan A is to play on the PGA Tour, though he has shifted his major to chemistry in preparation for medical school. A mission trip to Jamaica rekindled Booth’s interest in becoming an eye doctor, which he’d long contemplated but dismissed owing to the length of years he’d have to spend in school.
However, a chance encounter with a blind man in a Jamaican hospital shifted my viewpoint. Booth knew he had to help when he discovered the man’s predicament could have been completely avoided if he had been able to afford surgery. Booth is determined to make a difference, whether he makes it to the Tour and eventually forms a foundation or goes to medical school to perform the procedures himself.
Booth wears spectacles to protect his left eye when he plays. His right eye’s deterioration accelerated due to blunt force trauma, but he knows he’ll eventually lose vision in his left eye as well, whether it’s in the coming years or when he’s 80.
It’s why he gets up early every morning to make the most of each day.
The USGA’s new U.S. Adaptive Open, which will debut this July at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 6, has Booth intrigued. There will be 96 players on the field, with at least five male and two female competitors in each disability group. One of the eight categories is vision impairment.
After spending so much time away from professional golf, tournament reps are the most important thing for Booth, according to O’Keefe. The fact that Booth is blind in one eye would go unnoticed by most people. An alert person would notice that his right eye is generally red and puffy, indicating that something is awry. Booth, a man with huge dreams and an even bigger heart, goes about his business as usual.
“He just fights through it,” O’Keefe explained. “He never, ever makes an excuse.”
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