Young golfers learn more than rules of the game at The Honda Classic

Els for Autism, First Tee of Palm Beaches team up

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- A group of children on the autism spectrum had the chance of a lifetime Wednesday.  They practiced next to the professionals on the driving range at The Honda Classic.

It is a scenario most golfers would relish, and that is not lost on athlete Dylan Clark.  The 19-year-old is on the autism spectrum, and he's part of First Tee of the Palm Beaches. 

"I know, it's kind of cool.  I’m kind of hoping to speak to Tiger Woods if I can," he said.

Clark is an athlete with First Tee of the Palm Beaches.  He is playing at the Honda Classic through Els for Autism.

"In golf you can't really cheat, it's all like the same fairness and everything and you just take your time.  It's not like something you have to rush through, and I like that," Clark said.

Jack Barrett is the Director of Development and Lead Coach for First Tee of the Palm Beaches.  He says success is found in small moments, but they can bring big strides in self-esteem.

"It might be just hitting it 20 or 30 feet, but to them that's huge," Barrett said.

Tactile elements are added, like color-coordinated clubs and Velcro targets. 

"A lot of children with autism are visual learners so that is very effective," explained Mary Kay Willson, Tournament Director for Els for Autism.

"We're not looking to create great golfers, we are looking to help them become better kids," Barrett explained.

One of the golfers is Ben Els, the son of professional golfer Ernie Els, who started Els for Autism.   Phil Cotton, Business Manager to Ernie Els, says he sees giant smiles on the faces of children when they find success in the golf game.

"To be able to do that for kids on the spectrum, who can come here, interact, enjoy themselves with good activity.  You know, it's a huge thing," Cotton said.

Clark says he is learning at The Honda Classic and in his regular golf practice.  It is a lesson every golfer tries to master in sport and in life.

"Patience, I'm still working on patience," he said.

Els for Autism has a groundbreaking planned for a new center on March 10th in the Palm Beach County area. 

For more information about First Tee of the Palm Beaches, visit www.thefirstteepalmbeaches.org or call 561-842-0066 .

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