Dennis Walters is the only touring member of the PGA who makes a very good living by sitting down on the job. A paraplegic since a catastrophic golf cart accident in 1974, Walters, who had dreamt of playing on The PGA TOUR, has turned this personal tragedy into his personal triumph through “The Dennis Walters Golf Show.”
From a swivel seat mounted on a golf cart, Walters has created a unique trick-shot exhibition. With the help of his sidekick Bucky, a rescued terrier who can tee up the ball, assist in several shots, and bark out answers to numerical questions, the show is a favorite with young and old alike. Since Walters began this tour in 1977, he has made more than 3000 appearances in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, and the UK. From a bag of tricks that contains about 35 “clubs,” Walters displays his remarkable repertoire. Whether he swings a fishing rod, a crutch, a hose, a shaft with three universal joints, or a three iron (a club with three heads), the result is always the same—perfectly striped. He’ll also stripe ’em off 18 and 36 inch tees, off a wristwatch and from beneath an egg that doesn’t crack. With a real driver, he’ll blast the ball 240 yards and predict the trajectory – straight, draw, or fade. Just as impressive is Walters’ deft touch in adding wit, wisdom and inspiration to his hour-long presentation.
He touches upon his anger and frustration after the accident, but he explains how his love for golf never wavered and how the months between the accident and his new career were spent in rehabilitating both his body and mind. “It was easy,” he said. “All it took was hard work, dedication, and perseverance.” “A dream is not just something you have at night,” Walters tells his audience. “A dream is having a positive thought in your head and in your heart. You have to do whatever it takes to make that dream come true. If you have a dream and it doesn’t work out, never stop dreaming. Get a new dream.” His autobiography, “In My Dream, I Walk with You,” describes the many steps in his life and, like his show, both entertains and instructs.
The resilience in his dream has earned universal recognition: the 1978 Ben Hogan Award, honorary lifetime membership in the PGA in 1992, the 1994 Graffis Award, the Mary Bea Porter Award, the Golf Digest Junior Achievement Award, and the 2008 PGA Distinguished Service Award. Walters also serves as a national spokesman for The First Tee.
NEGM: How did you become a trick-shot artist?
DW: After my accident, I was trying to cope with a hopeless situation. As rotten as I felt everywhere else, when I went to the course, I felt better. Hitting balls was great mental and physical therapy. As a kid, I had watched the great Paul Hahn in person. I first began to copy the type of trick shots he performed, and then I created many more of my own.
NEGM: How has the PGA of America helped your career?
DW: In 1977, I started to develop my show, and the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando was my first official one. I have been performing for the PGA ever since. They have been a big supporter of my career. Two awards that I appreciate tremendously from the PGA are the honorary lifetime membership and the Distinguished Service Award.
NEGM: What are your responsibilities for The First Tee?
DW: I am a national ambassador. At each show, I inform people about its good works. I visit about 35 chapters a year, too. I am pleased to help young people learn how to play golf and develop lifelong values.
NEGM: What have been some of your more enjoyable venues?
DW: St. Andrews and Augusta National. US Opens and PGA Championships where I have the chance to spend time with the world’s best players. Anchorage for The First Tee completed my 50th state visit. Actually, each venue is enjoyable!
NEGM: What are your remembrances of New England?
DW: I always have fun. I love seafood – especially lobster – the coast line, and the people. I visit TPC Boston every year in June for an area-wide youth clinic. I would be very happy to perform in NE more frequently.
NEGM: Can you play a round of golf from your cart? What do you score?
DW: Yes, and I do have fun getting out on the course. I played all 18 holes at St. Andrews, but now I usually don’t play more than nine holes and shoot around 40. The lowest score I’ve had for nine holes playing from my cart is 32, and I won $18!
NEGM: Who would be in your “dream” foursome of today? Of any time period?
DW: Palmer, Player, Nicklaus. A fivesome of Hogan, Jones, Nelson, Snead!
NEGM: How about Bucky’s dream foursome?
DW: Let me ask him. OK, Bucky said, “Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and Benji.”
NEGM: Why did you write your autobiography?
DW: To detail the journey I have been on for 35 years and to show what is possible when others say it isn’t. People have written that I have made a difference in their lives, and those responses have been a great gift— that my last 35 years have, in fact, been worthwhile.
NEGM: What is your current “dream”?
DW: To inspire others, especially children and those with disabilities, to reach for their dreams, strive for excellence, and do something in their lives that they never thought they could do.
Access www.denniswalters.com for more information. Dennis Walters has copies of his autobiography to autograph at every show, and it can be purchased as e-book or hard copy from his website.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?