By Lindsay Steele
As PGA pro golfer Hunter Mahan and his caddy John Wood filled their lockers at Gleneagles Golf Course in Scotland for the recent Ryder Cup, they taped up a picture of a young fan posing with an American flag. The fan, 21-year-old David Finn, had been a good luck charm for the duo, being present at several of their PGA tour victories. Wood said he hoped the photo would bring a little luck to the American Ryder Cup team as they battled a tough European squad.
Ultimately, the Americans lost to the European squad, ending a year that has been dominated by European players like Rory McIlroy in major events. David Finn, however, has had a banner year. He met Arnold Palmer, attended the exclusive Masters tournament, and Phil Mickelson invited David to follow him inside the ropes during his final round at the U.S. Open.
He does it all with the help of a wheelchair, electronic communication device, and his parents, John and Vanessa. Born with a mitochondrial disorder that restricts the use of his muscles, David is unable to play the sport he loves, or express his thoughts through traditional speech, but his smiles, laughs and his presence in the gallery have made him a favorite fan of many of the pro-golfers.
His father shares their experiences on a Facebook page, Golf Fanatic to the Bones. His Facebook wall is filled with pictures of the 35-plus tournaments they have attended and the pros they have befriended along the way. Offline, David’s bedroom is a kind of museum filled with donations from the golfers he adores; signed gloves, winning balls and caddy bibs are just a few of the dozens of items displayed. When they are unable to attend a tournament, David watches The Golf Channel at their New Jersey home, never missing a moment of the action.
John has observed a myriad of reactions to David at tournaments. Sometimes, fellow fans approach them with a look of pity — which David hates. Others, who know of him through his Facebook page or from articles in Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated, ask for autographs or give him gifts. Usually, even golfers they’ve never met will take time to pose for a picture. Sometimes, players’ wives in the gallery will offer to walk with David and help him get around.
David, whose intelligence has not been affected by his disorder, has said through his communication device that he feels “special” when fans, players, caddies and players’ wives go out of their way to be kind to him or thank him for attending. Most know him by name; some come for dinner when they play near the Finns’ home.
John isn’t sure what drives the golf pros and their families to befriend his son. He can only observe and appreciate their generosity for what they do to make David smile. John said David’s favorite people are those who like and accept him for who he is. “The best way to approach (individuals with disabilities) is to accept whatever condition they have as a totally normal part of their lives. That does not mean to ignore it, but to treat the disability as normality.”
David is experiencing the type of moments that most golf fans can only dream about, but they might have never happened had his parents not been open to life. While they recognize that some couples may choose to end the life of an unborn child with a severe physical disability like David’s, John said it was simply not an option for them as Christians. “I always thank God for his gift to us of David. Our lives would be infinitely easier and infinitely poorer without David.”
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)