Golfers with disabilities play at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor

Sports

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (WFLA) – “Golf is a sport you can play forever. You don’t ever have to hang up your golf cleats.”

I cannot tell you who shared those words on the driving range at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor but I do not think you can argue with them. The sport is both ageless and limitless and that combination is perfect for this particular group of young athletes.

They are flashing their gear and they are flashing their skills, skills highlighted by their drive to overcome a disability and compete on the course.

What does Jackson Merriss, a junior golfer from Easley, South Carolina, like the most about the sport?

“Just hitting the ball so far,” he said.

His father, Todd Merriss, asked him another question, “Beating your daddy?”

“Yes!” Jackson replied with a laugh. “I like beating you.”

“You will beat me!” Todd assured his son.

The two of them are golfing buddies.

“When I get off of work,” said Todd, “I pick him up and we go to the golf course. We play a few holes and we go to the driving range and we putt. He’s, every day, ‘Can we go golfing, dad?’”

The answer is almost always “yes”.

“He just loves golf,” Todd told 8 On Your Side. “He could tell you the golfer in a heartbeat. He records it, watches it, and just lives and sleeps and eats golf.”

Jackson currently has a handful of favorite golfers.

“Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bruce Koepka,” said Jackson.

“You just named all of the golfers,” added Todd with a laugh.

“Yes,” said Jackson with a thoughtful look on his face, “there are only three now.”

Jackson is adding one more name to that impressive list, Vince Biser. He is a six-time winner of the North American One-Armed Golfer Association championship. The similarities between the two golfers are stunning.

“He has cerebral palsy just like me and pretty much same swing,” said Vince, “pretty much identical when I was that age.”

Jackson is ten years old. He shares his age and his birthday with his twin brother, Caden. The identical twins were diagnosed in the womb with Twin-Twin Transfusion Syndrome.

“The twins were connected by veins and arteries,” explained Todd.

According to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the condition occurs in pregnancies “when identical twins share a placenta. Abnormal blood vessel connections form in the placenta and allow blood to flow unevenly between the babies. One twin, called the donor, becomes dehydrated and the other twin, called the recipient, develops high blood pressure.”

“So, at 16 weeks, we went to Cincinnati and had fetal surgery,” Todd said.

Jackson and Caden were born prematurely and Jackson suffered from multiple complications. The doctors did not know if he would survive.

“They asked us on the third day if we wanted to pull the cord on the ventilator because he would probably never walk or talk or know us and we couldn’t do that,” said Todd.

Todd and his wife would not do it and, now, Jackson is meeting Vince ahead of a championship round of golf featuring athletes who can relate to his disability.

“You got the best players in the world, one-armed players in the world, standing out here in the heat playing with these kids, hitting shots, getting them fired up,” said Dan Aldrich, the president of the North American One-Armed Golfer Association.

Dan is the man behind the plan to introduce the experienced golfers to the junior golfers. He lost the use of his left arm in a water skiing accident when he was a teenager. He says, after that accident, he found himself on the golf course.

“We know how powerful that is,” Dan said. “It is not just playing golf. It gives them a confidence. It shows them, man, if I can do this, I can do anything. It is pretty awesome.”

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