By: John McReynolds
Brian MacLeod, 47, is arguably the best blind golfer in NorthAmerica. Reigning king of the U.S. Blind Open and four-timedefending Canadian champion, he’s shot as low as 83 and is ontrack to be the best in the world. But it’s been a long haul to the fairway for MacLeod.
Diabetes at Age 16
A straight-talking, no-nonsense man with a sledgehammer style,he’s spent much of his life in the rough. At the age of 16,he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after passing out on the family staircase. “I was devastated,” he says. “Daily insulin and a strict diet shouldn’t have been a big deal, but it made me feel like I was different. It felt like a big dark secret. I didn’t tell my friends about it.”
Blind at Age 28
As a youth, MacLeod didn’t try very hard to take care ofhimself. Sports came first, and a life like his friends. In 1986 hewon three local golf tournaments, but all the while, diabeticretinopathy was chipping away at his sight. Then two freakcollisions detached his retinas and, weakened by retinopathy, theycould not be reattached. At the age of 28, MacLeod saw his world goblack.
It was only then that he began to take care of himself. “Thekey to medication is to always test at the same time everyday,” he says. “I would test four times a day and if Ithought I might be low, I’d test more often.”
Glucose Management on the Course
MacLeod didn’t let blindness stop him. He kept golfing and hekept improving, both at golf and at managing his diabetes. Henotes, “A lot of guys take their test equipment right on thegolf course. You adapt your insulin to the amount of activityyou’re going to have that day.” Describing his regimenin British millimoles/liter, he states, “If I was doing a lot,my sugars would drop, so I’d have a lot of juice and chocolatebars or fruit in my golf bag. A little bit high, it didn’tworry me too much. My body can burn that off over 18 holes. But withlow sugars I could get weak and pass out. I’d keep it at sevenor eight, a little bit high. I’d usually take 44 or 45 unitsof Lente in the morning. Then let’s say at the first tee boxI’m at 12. I’m thinking I’m okay. After the ninthhole, let’s say it’s down to four. I’d probablyhave a sandwich and a juice and bring it up. If it went up, to say14, by the ninth hole I’d take 4 units of Toronto (afast-acting Canadian insulin) and check in two hours later to see ifit came down. Then I’d check after. I’d test before,middle and after.”
Kidney and Pancreas Transplant
Despite his best efforts, MacLeod’s kidneys continued todeteriorate. He was on dialysis for seven months in 1992 beforereceiving a kidney transplant. After the 1999 Canadian Blind Open,he was again placed on the transplant waiting list, and in July of2000, he received another kidney and a pancreas as well. “NowI’m a kid in a candy store,” he jokes. He has been freeof his type 1 diabetes for the last 6½ years. His last blood work, in February, showed everything in good order.
Hooray for Canadian Health
MacLeod pulls no punches in his praise for the Canadian health caresystem. “We’re so lucky here. The rejection pills Itake, tacromycin and rapamycin, cost $5,000 a month. I don’tpay a dime. The operation would have been at least $120,000. Wheream I going to come up with that kind of money? Maybe our taxes are alittle higher, but that covers all medical. You think you’llnever use it, but I never thought I would either.”
Many Diabetic Golfers
Many top blind golfers are diabetic. Stompin’ Bob Comba ofVancouver, the last man to defeat MacLeod before his run of fourstraight California Classic titles, has diabetes. So does DennisSmith of Talladega, Alabama, who was part of the United States BlindGolf Association delegation to the world championships last year. Sodoes Bob Spencer of Phoenix, 2005 USBGA champion in the partiallysighted division.
But kidneys, sugar levels, insulin dosages, transplants, andblindness are subjects rarely broached in the bar after golf. “At tournaments, the talk is all about golf,” MacLeodasserts, scoffing at the very idea of diabetes-related topics.“That’s the beauty of it. It gets old reliving thatother stuff. It turns into a pity party. These guys are past thatpoor-me stuff.”
MacLeod is an intense competitor. “My ultimate goal is to winthe worlds,” he declares. World champion David Morris ofEngland is the only obstacle remaining in MacLeod’s path.Morris defeated MacLeod in Japan at the 2006 world championships
Though the dozen blind golf tournaments held in North America eachyear could be termed a tour like the Professional Golf Associationtour, there is a whopping difference—no prize money. Participantspay their own way, occasionally with help from a sponsor. Forinstance, golf manufacturer Calloway assists MacLeod with equipment.The big events are the United States Blind Golf Association nationaltournament, in Philadelphia this year, and the biennial worldchampionships.
MacLeod is the favorite in every tournament he enters.“He’s not playing for second place any more,”observes Nova Scotian Andy Crowe. Andy is part of MacLeod’srotating stable of coaches, the critical men who walk the coursewith the blind golfer, talk distance and wind, place his club at theball, and then get out of the way.
“His putting is always good, and his drives are 250 yards. Inmy mind Brian is the best blind golfer in the world. If you playBrian against David Morris, Brian is going to win eight times out often. Morris went to Australia to prepare before the Worlds lastApril. And here’s Brian with hardly any chance to practicebefore that. We’re not even golfing around here yet at thattime of year. So he had a huge disadvantage.”
MacLeod, a demon for self-improvement, has two goals for 2007—todrop his weight below 200 pounds again and to shore up his chippinggame for smoother approaches to the green. Then, he reasons, he willbe ready in 2008 to knock off Morris in the world tournament inBelfast, Northern Ireland, in August. The word“can’t” is absent from his vocabulary. “Itshouldn’t be in anybody’s vocabulary,” he growls."
What Golfing Has Given
Thanks to blind golf, MacLeod has visited more of the world withouteyesight than he would have with it, a development he could not haveimagined when diabetes blinded him. “Look where I’vebeen: Australia, Japan, and all over the States and Canada. You canbe just another statistic sitting home, or you can be one who getspeople back outside doing things. You can be part of the problem orpart of the solution.”