Parkite Stockton wins World Deaf Golf Championship
August 27, 2010
As play backed up around the turn, Melissa Stockton sat on the 10th hole tee box and began to contemplate her situation.
With just nine holes left in the fourth and final round at the World Deaf Golf Championships in St. Andrews, Scotland, Stockton held the lead. If you think a hearing-impaired person can’t hear voices, you’ve never played competitive golf before.
"I started to feel the pressure," Stockton said in an e-mail to The Record. "My stomach was just twisted in knots."
Nonetheless, the Park City resident fought through the mental cacophony to card a solid back nine, and media and onlookers watched as she sank her final putt on the 18th hole to become the women’s world champion. Only after she won was she told the result, and what followed was pure relief.
"I hugged so many people I can’t count," she said.
Stockton also led the United States to a first-place finish in the team standings, beating out South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Australia and Ireland. More than 350 golfers were on hand at the challenging Fairmont Golf Resort, which played host to a Senior PGA Tour event soon after.
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The champion might have never gone were it not for the students and staff at McPolin Elementary School, where Stockton works as an aide. A one-mile walk was held in her honor at the North 40 field, raising about $900 to pitch in for the journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
"I can’t thank the staff, parents and students enough for their support," she said. "I have never been overseas before. I was very excited to go to Scotland, where golf is as popular as football in the United States."
Without hearing aids, Stockton can’t hear a thing. She can, however, read lips, and she even works during the summer delivering pizzas.
She got her start in golf at 11 years old in Carlsbad, Calif., where her grandparents lived on a course. "It just looked like fun to hit the ball," she said. Her grandmother made her practice in an empty field before she would take her out on the course, but she soon worked her game up to snuff.
Now Stockton features a 10 handicap as a member of the Park City Ladies’ Golf League, and has broken into the 70s on four occasions this year after a marked improvement in her game. She also plays in a deaf league that travels to different courses each month.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing – or, rather, flying – on her way to Scotland, however. Her flight to Newark, N.J., to meet up with the rest of the U.S. team was canceled, and though she was able to make the trip to Edinburgh, her bags and clubs were not waiting for her at the airport.
The U.S. team played at nearby Gulane Golf Course for a final tune-up, and Stockton shot an 82 with borrowed clubs, but fears still lingered. It wasn’t until she returned to her hotel that afternoon and saw her bags that she could breathe easily again.
Stockton also had to learn to read universal sign language and British sign language to communicate at the event. "It is not easy," she said. "Over the week, it got easier to read."
Then came the course itself. Fairmont is a "links" course, where the emphasis is less on aesthetics and more on mind-blowing difficulty. Blind bunkers, water hazards, rock-hard greens and deep weeds greeted the golfers.
"Staying on the fairway was a must," she said. "Mistakes were costly."
Making matters worse were the blustery winds and rains that are common to Scotland’s coasts. Stockton said she couldn’t count how many times she put her rain gear on and took it back off.
As much as she might have been thinking about all of the obstacles she faced, she must have appeared eerily undaunted to the rest of the field. Hoping just to finish in the top five, she displayed remarkable consistency by losing just four balls in four rounds and came into the fourth round with a one-stroke lead. After it was all said and done, she won by five strokes to earn the fifth-ever sterling silver platter awarded at the event, as well as a trip to the 2012 championships in Japan.
When it was over (and she had delivered a high-pressure victory speech), the golfers played for three days at the local courses, which included the Gleneagle PGA course – where the 2014 Ryder Cup will be held – and St. Andrews’ infamous Old Course and New Course.
Stockton said she is still seeking sponsorships so she can afford to defend her title in Japan. She will also make the trip to Dayton, Ohio, to compete in next year’s U.S. championship.