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USGA wants golf in the Paralympics as inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open champions crowned

Joy – that’s the one-word response USGA CEO Mike Whan received when he asked what he should expect at this week’s inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open.

The event, which is a national championship for golfers with physical, visual and intellectual impairments, concluded its first edition on Wednesday at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s No. 6 course in North Carolina.

“I think this [event] is at the top of the list of pride for my team in terms of what we’re proud of,” Whan said. “This is the seeds of something different.”

The USGA wants to see those seeds grow and stem into two directions: expansion into an international qualifying circuit for this event while also encouraging golf organizations around the world to produce more adaptive events, in general. The ultimate goal is to get golf in the Paralympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided in 2009 to allow golf to re-enter the Olympic Games, with the sport appearing for the first time in nearly 100 years at the Rio Games in 2016. The topic of golf in the Paralympics was broached around that time, but the golf world wasn’t ready. There was no national championship, no clear rankings and no detailed understanding of the various adaptive classifications. That’s when the tiny seeds for the U.S. Adaptive Open were planted, and more than 10 years later, the USGA is leading the push for the sport to reach the Paralympic level.

On Wednesday, the first-ever U.S. Adaptive Open champions were decided, with Korea’s Simon Lee (II - intellectual impairment) winning the men’s overall division in a playoff against fellow II athlete Felix Norrman of Sweden.

The United States’ Kim Moore (leg) topped the women’s overall field, with three fellow Americans rounding out the top 4.

Champions were also determined in each classification, with the following athletes winning in their respective categories:

The athleticism, skill and sheer talent on display at Pinehurst caught the eye of some of the sport’s biggest names, including Tiger Woods, who tweeted his support of the event, saying, “We all should be inspired watching the #USAdaptiveOpen. Good luck to all the competitors and never give up!”

“I think our sport, right now more than ever, needs a message about what it’s really all about, because this isn’t about money and contracts,” Whan said. “This is about meaning and difference and feeling included, and that’s what’s happening this week.”