On Christmas Day 2008, Jeremy Poincenot’s father, Lionel, gave him a new set of Callaway irons. Instead of being happy, Jeremy says, “I thought it was a sick joke.”
That’s because just a few months earlier, Jeremy had gone from having 20/20 vision to being legally blind. It started when the San Diego State University sophomore noticed his eyesight was getting blurry. Two months later, his central vision was gone due to a rare genetic disorder called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy. Though his peripheral eyesight remains intact, the disease robbed Jeremy of the ability to drive, read, and recognize faces. It has no treatment and no cure.
It was a cruel blow to a young man on the cusp of adulthood who was already a better golfer than many players twice his age.
Jeremy was introduced to golf as a child. Both his parents worked at Taylor Made, where they met. Lionel went on to spend a career in the industry as an engineer, working subsequently for Cleveland Golf and Callaway.
Jeremy remembers swinging his junior clubs at whiffle balls as a little kid, and by middle school, he was playing on school teams. He went on to play varsity golf for three years in high school, and from ages 12 to 17, golfed with his father every Sunday. At first, Lionel was the better player, and then Jeremy caught and surpassed him, typically shooting in the 70s and low 80s.
On that Christmas in 2008, Lionel wasn’t trying to be cruel by giving his son the new irons. He’d simply bought them before Jeremy lost his sight and decided to give them to him anyway.
Despite Jeremy’s lack of enthusiasm, a few months later Lionel invited his son out to hit some range balls.
“I thought, what’s the harm? I’ll give it a shot,” Jeremy says. “But I also vowed that if I took a swing and missed, that I’d quit.”
To his own surprise, Jeremy got a solid hit off his first ball, followed by the second and then the third. He hadn’t golfed at all since losing his sight, and yet he didn’t miss a single shot that day.
Not all of them were perfect, of course. “But I could feel the ones I hit that were solid,” he says, “and I missed that feeling. Sticks have that feeling almost every shot, and even a Hack lives for that feeling a handful of times in a round. Sight or no sight, it was euphoric.”
Today Jeremy is a 30-year-old blind golf champion who travels the country and the world with Lionel, who acts as his guide.
Blind golf is played just like typical golf except that golfers play with a guide, who sets up every shot. Teams follow the established rules of golf with a few slight modifications.
Just as he was reluctant to hit balls at the range, Jeremy was also skeptical that blind golf could be any fun. “I thought it would be a glaring reminder of my blindness,” he recalls. “And I would have no enjoyment because I know how well I played before. Also, when I was sighted, I hated slow play, and blind golf is the epitome of slow play. I really didn’t want to do it.”
Despite his reservations, he went out to a local course with his dad and played a round. He shot a 99, which would have triggered a celebration for a lot of us.
But not Jeremy.
“I remembered shooting 78,” he says. “I knew myself, and I knew my standards and wanted better.”
With practice and a supportive father, fueled by an intensely competitive streak, Jeremy improved at lightning speed. Just a year later, in 2010, he and Lionel traveled to England and won the World Blind Golf Championship. A decade later they’ve won two more world championships and eight national championships, and they continue to compete.
Like so many other events, this year’s tournaments have been canceled due to COVID-19. Jeremy keeps on training, though, golfing mostly at the Morgan Run Club and Resort in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego, where he lives. Assuming the 2021 tournaments are back on track, Jeremy and Lionel are planning to compete in both the national championship in Orlando and the world championship in South Africa.
To Be a Better Golfer, Be More Interdependent
When he’s not golfing, Jeremy works full time as a professional speaker, workshop facilitator and performance coach. He often speaks to audiences on the topic of interdependence and how individuals are stronger by working with others. It’s a life lesson that blind golf taught him.
“I used to view independence as the goal,” Jeremy explains. “Nobody wants to feel vulnerable. We’re afraid of asking for help, and that’s the paradox. Interdependence is actually team sports at its finest. The quality of our lives has a lot to do with the quality of people with whom we surround ourselves. When it comes to golf, you’ll go farther by utilizing the people around you to help you.”
Interdependence actually requires strength. “To embrace interdependence,” he says, “you have to be independent. A dependent person can’t do it.”
So how does the notion of interdependence translate for Sticks and Hacks?
“As a Hack, get lessons and help, and seek out advice to be a better player,” he says. “Don’t willy-nilly just ask anybody. Ask for help from people who do it well. If you have a friend with an amazing driver swing, ask him what he thinks of yours. Ask somebody else for advice who plays a great short game, and somebody else who makes all his putts.”
“And if you’re a Stick, same thing. Don’t assume you know everything. As a Stick myself, I also know that we can always get our mental game to be better.”
Interdependence isn’t just a practical skill that’s paying off for Jeremy. It’s enhanced his entire life and relationships in ways he never anticipated.
“Nothing that can top winning blind golf tournaments with my dad as a guide. I think I’ll be in a rocking chair someday and think about how grateful I am to have had all this. I could have had someone else guide me and that would be cool, but together my dad and I are a formidable team. Victories are twice as sweet because I get to say we did it together.”
Get to know more about Jeremy and his coaching business, and reach out to him through his website.
Watch Jeremy on the Stick and Hack Show and hear more of his story and his true love for the game of golf.
Claire Donaldson is a Floridian who learned to play golf when she and her husband moved into a country club in Palm Beach County. Though she was initially just in it for the cart, she has grown to love the game, the gear, and the occasional gator on the course.
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