Michigan foursome set to compete in USGA's inaugural disabled golf championship

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Growing up in Charlotte, near Lansing, Brian Bemis was involved in just about every sport. You name it, he played it — baseball, basketball, football, soccer — and, usually, he played it pretty well. He even started switch-hitting in baseball at age 7.

Then, at 12 years old, Bemis was diagnosed with cancer so serious, his right leg had to be amputated.

His sports career was over. Or, so he thought.

Lansing's Brian Bemis will compete in the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open.

Then, six months after the major surgery, he was at the office of the man who was making his prosthesis, and he spotted a magazine on the table. There was a story about amputee golfers.

"I started reading it and looking at it and everything, and I was like, 'I think I can do that,'" Bemis said over the phone Friday. "I went home and started hitting golf balls on one leg. Then, once I got the prosthetic, golf was like…a drug I couldn't get enough of.

"I love golf, I love being around it, just being a part of it."

Next week, Bemis will be a part of the biggest golf championship he's ever played in. The United States Golf Association this year has founded the U.S. Adaptive Open, open to golfers with disabilities, like amputations, arm impairment, leg impairment, intellectual impairment, neurological impairment, visual impairment, short stature of seated players.

The tournament is Monday through Wednesday on Course No. 6 at famed Pinehurst in North Carolina.

The field will consist of 96 players, including four from Michigan, competing in multiple categories.

It's the USGA's 15th national championship.

"I think it's gonna be huge, just the exposure the USGA gets," said another competitor, Western Michigan women's golf coach Kim Moore, who was born without a right foot.

"I think this can be a huge boom for disabled golf."

The other two Michigan players in the field are: Sophia Howard, 15, of Hudsonville, who was born without a right hand; and Tracy Ramin, 50, of Montrose, who is a below-the-knee amputee. 

Moore, 41, lives in Portage, and Bemis, 48, lives in Lansing.

There are 29 states and 11 countries represented — and that's special for Moore, who played a number of sports growing up (basketball was her favorite) but has become a big player in the adaptive golf community, first playing at the University of Indianapolis, then becoming a PGA professional, then landing the Western Michigan job. Along the way, she's competed in many tournaments, and mentored plenty of disabled golfers.

"I didn't even know about amputee golf until I was out of college," said Moore, who grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "Now there are disabled events in almost every state, regional events, world events. It's definitely gotten a lot more prevalent.

"It's just exciting to see how far it's come and how far it will go."

Western Michigan women's golf coach Kim Moore will play in the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open, set for next week in North Carolina.

The tournament format will be stroke play, and carts will be permitted. Yardage will be between 6,500 and 4,700, depending on gender and disability. Nearly 300 players applied for a spot in the event, with emails going out in early May to those who were accepted. Golfers must have a handicap index of 36.4 or better. Features and highlights will air throughout the week on Golf Channel.

A male and female winner will be crowned, with the champions receiving a gold medal, possession of the U.S. Open Adaptive Trophy for one year, exemptions into future U.S. Adaptive Opens (the number of exempt years remains undecided), and their name on a plaque that will include names of all 2022 USGA champions and reside in the Hall of Champions at the USGA's Golf Museum in New Jersey.

Moore is a veteran of adaptive tournaments, and said her goal is pretty simple: to win.

Bemis, who was sleeping this spring when he got the email of his spot in the tournament and only found out about it when his phone started blowing up with congrats from friends, is eyeing at least a top-10 finish. This tournament actually starts on the 10-year anniversary of Bemis' third amputation of his right leg. He said he's not great at any one area of his golf game. He said he's not a very good putter. Yeah, who is?

"I mean, I'm just beyond thrilled," said Bemis, who works at the Country Club of Lansing and previously worked at Hawk Hollow in Bath. "For the USGA to step up and do something like this, to have their name on it, is just amazing. To create something and bring some of the best players around the world to play in this event, it's earth-shattering. It's mind-blowing to me.

"I've played with a bunch of really good players throughout my time in disabled golf, but to have the governing body of golf, the USGA, put it all together, it takes it to a whole other level."

U.S. Adaptive Open

When: Monday through Wednesday

Where: Course No. 6 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Pinehurst, North Carolina

Field: 96 players from 29 states and 11 countries, including four from Michigan

Defending champion: Inaugural tournament

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984