EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — From a few feet away, after watching one of his majestic drives off the tee, you wouldn’t know Mike McKone is any different from his golfing partner – but he’s missing a sense that’s vital on the links.
Eddie Hewitt started golfing with McKone when the two were growing up in Warwick, and now he’s the eyes for his lifelong friend when they’re on the golf course.
“You want to try to hit just a little cut fade,” he tells McKone on a hole at the Exeter Country Club.
“How far is the corner from the dog leg?” McKone answers from behind his sunglasses.
After a few more cues from Hewitt, the ball is teed up, and seconds later, with a fluid swing, it’s launched toward the green.
“Nice shot Michael,” Hewitt says.
Nice for any golfer, but McKone is blind in one eye, 90% blind in the other and overall has 20/300 vision, which means objects that are 20 feet away look as though they’re 300 feet away. Hewitt and McKone are part of a group that helped bring the United States Blind Golf Association National Championship and World Open to the Exeter Country Club. McKone, who’s won the USBGA national championship twice, credits the Lions Club, the organization Insight and a slew of fundraisers who pulled together the money to cover most of the golfers’ costs for the August 16-20 tournament.
McKone’s eye problems started when he was hit in the face with a telephone pole sized post on a Texas oil rig in 1979. His eyesight was fine for decades until he picked up a cornea infection. By 2006, the problem left him blind in the left eye. Then, despite five operations in six weeks in 2009, he was blind in both eyes.
“I never thought I would play again,” McKone said. “I don’t know how the totally blind do it.”
“You thought things were going to get better,” Hewitt added, thinking back to when he first heard about his friend’s blindness. “And things just got progressively worse and worse and worse over time.”
About three months after that final operation, and two years of total darkness, McKone woke up to a sliver of light in his right eye.
“It’s disbelief,” he said, recalling that morning. “I remember seeing the green lines in my sheets that I thought were white. I saw the tooth paste and I cried. And I realized it was a miracle.”
He recalls a few surprised doctors as well.
“There was no medical explanation for me seeing,” said McKone. “And when you see these kids [at the tournament in August] who have been blind their whole life, and they’re golfing, it’s so inspiring.”
Now, McKone calls his loss of sight a blessing, saying he listens more, hears better and is far more sensitive to his surroundings.
“The blind can do just about anything sighted people can do. It just takes us longer to do it.”
Mike McKone joined The Rhode Show Monday to talk more about an upcoming tournament and his personal struggles.