July 25th, 2017 03:33PM
Xander Dobreff of Washington Township north of Detroit was on the No. 1 tee of the Masterpiece at Treetops Resort Monday morning a little bit stressed and a lot fired up about playing in the North American Association of One Armed Golfers Championship.
“I’m ready and I think everybody is going to love it here,” he said of Treetops, which will host the championship over the next four days on each of its four championship courses in the heart of the Gaylord Golf Mecca.
An automobile accident in 2009 left the 28-year-old Dobreff disabled with just 50 percent use in his left arm, so he golfs with just his right arm and one day he wants to be the champion. To get there he will have to beat the No. 1-ranked one-armed player in the world, Canada’s Jesse Florkowski, a plus-1 handicap golfer born without a right arm, who is also in the field this week and played college golf.
“He’s the one who inspires me to practice and practice,” Xander said.
The North American Association of One Armed Golfers moves its championship around the country each year, and Xander put in a bid to have it in Michigan. He said he wanted a site that totally says Michigan and great golf in Michigan. He had attended the Rick Smith Golf Academy for four years in his youth when he played with two arms, so he was very familiar with Treetops and the Gaylord Golf Mecca.
“To me Treetops just speaks North American, Northern Michigan, and has incredible golf, and they have been amazing since the minute we got here,” he said. “This is going to be a great week for all of us.”
They played a fun event on Sunday (July 23) upon arrival on the classic Par 3 Threetops course. After the Masterpiece, they will move to the Signature on Tuesday, the Premier on Wednesday and the Tradition on Thursday. The event combines stroke play and match play to determine a champion, and several other events go on to insure that the entire field plays golf each say even after they are cut or eliminated in the tournament.
Xander said in the days after his accident and the traumatic realization of having a disability set in he started thinking.
“You go through what can I still do,” he said. “What can I have fun with, what can I do with this disability?”
He said golf with one arm was a wonderful answer.
“Golf is a place where I feel nothing ever happened,” he said.
Xander has a 9 USGA/GAM Handicap Index and is determined to get it closer to Florkowski.
“My goal is to beat him somehow,” he said. “He’s No. 1. He’s an incredible golfer, the best-one-armed player in the world and just a great golfer no matter what. What I really want to do is get to my highest level possible.”
Kevin McKinley, the director of golf for Treetops, worked the first tee Monday, welcoming the golfers.
“I’ve been greeting every group, watching them hit and it is pretty amazing,” he said. “Absolutely unbelievable how good they are, how gracious they are and how excited they are to be here.”
McKinley said Treetops was fired up to be a great host, too.
“These guys are inspiring just to watch,” he said. “We want them to enjoy great golf and competition, and it is an honor to host them.”
McKinley received a phone call over the winter from Xander that started the process.
“The organization divides the country up into four quadrants and then moves the tournament around, so we might get a chance to host again in four years,” he said. “Xander had been here before, and he has played in this tournament before and he thought it would be a perfect fit.”
The mission of NAOAGA is to promote the game of golf to those that must play “one-handed” due to a physically-challenged condition for the purpose of competition, recreation, and physical and emotional rehabilitation. NAOAGA organizes local, regional, national, and international competitions for its membership, seeks opportunities to educate the public on the existence and benefits of “one-armed golf,” and strives to provide a forum for discussion of pertinent issues related to living with an upper-extremity disability.
Check out this link to a photo essay Sports Illustrated published in 2015 at Harmony Landing Country Club in Goshen, Ky.:
Learn more at http://www.naoaga.com
See this feature on Florkowski at this link: https://www.thestar.com/sports/2012/10/18/on_the_tee_with_jesse_florkowski.html