Special Olympic golfer Joe Garrard takes to the sport quickly.

Sunday, June 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:31 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Joe Garrard receives congratulations from Gabe Estes after Garrard made a successful shot at Friday’s SOMO scramble in Fulton.

FULTON — The only thing the Special Olympic athlete playing with a group in a four-person scramble has to do is stroll up to the tee box with confidence, and then kiss his lucky three-wood before launching a respectable tee shot.

Joe Garrard or Joey as he is better known, hit that tee shot a little more than 100 yards down the fairway, evidence of the practice he has put in to get his game ready. It has been just two years since he first picked up the game, but at about 5 p.m. every Monday night, he and his coach, Dave Houston, hit the course. They first work their way through a bucket of balls on the driving range, then play eight to nine holes.

They used each of those Monday nights to prepare for Garrard’s next golf challenge where he, Houston, and two other acquaintances teamed up in the 2007 Swingin’ for SOMO Four-person golf scramble at Tanglewood Golf Course in Fulton. The fundraiser was held Friday for the Special Olympics Central Area, which serves 1,859 athletes.

Garrard, 32, who lives with highly functioning Downs Syndrome, had some of his best shots of the day when he dedicated the shot to a cause or someone. One of the better causes is trying to get a hole-in-one on the par-3 fifth hole, so he could give the new car from University Chrysler to his mother

When Garrard and his mother, Debbie Luckinbill, moved to Fulton two years ago, they found it had no Special Olympics program. Luckinbill raised funds to start a Special Olympics bowling program for her son and 29 other athletes in the Fulton area. The effort led to Luckinbill and Garrard receiving the 2007 SOMO Family of The Year award.

Bowling wasn’t enough for Garrard, though, and he picked up golf around the same time.

Friday, he didn’t win his mother a car, but he dedicated many shots.“This one’s for Gabe,” Garrard said before crushing one his best drives of the day down the fairway on the 325-yard, par-4 11th.

“Joey, I might as well have you start hitting for me,” said Gabe Estes, whose tee shot went out of bounds to the left. Estes then needed to use his one mulligan to put a ball in play for the group.

In a four-person scramble, each player tees off, then the group plays from the spot where the best ball is on every following shot until they hole out. A majority of the time, Garrard was the first to tee off or putt, allowing his group members to see how wind or the lay of the course would affect the ball’s path. Playing on Garrad’s home course, the group finished five-under with a score of 67, which placed them in the middle of three flights.

Not all of Garrard’s shots ended how he wanted. Some of his tee shots went about 50 yards before bouncing into the rough.

“I hate that! I hate that, I wanted to make it fly,” said Garrard to his coach after one mishap.

Houston quickly put things back in focus.

“Just cut the grass Joe,” said Houston, advising Garrard to swing the club so it barely “cut” the top of the grass and made good contact with the ball.

That philosophy led Garrard to a gold medal in the area and state Special Olympic games, where golferes demostrate basic skills. Houston and Garrard said they are ready to move on to an alternate-shot course competition.

“He’ll be playing on a course this year (in competition),” Houston said. “Last year he did do very well, he was 10-15 points ahead in the (skills) competition.”

Out on the course, Garrard doesn’t hesitate to join the banter of the rest of his group. Friday, Garrard even joked with the group playing ahead of his. Specifically, he singled out Tim Schuster, the SOMO Northeast Area Director, who knows Garrard from his time as the Central Area Associate Director.

When Garrard grew impatient when groups started to back up on the back nine, he took the opportunity to pester Schuster.

“Tim, watch on the 18th hole, I’m going to kick your butt!” Garrard said.

True to his word, Schuster’s group was waiting for the group ahead of them to clear, when Garrard’s group pulled up behind them. Garrard got out of the golf cart and made a marching bee-line for Schuster, as he broke down in a mock boxer’s stance.

But after a little jostling, they ended up trying to out bearhug one another.

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