"Patrick Molloy has a swing like Phil Mickelson," Norm Kritz told me, "the smoothest left-handed swing you could ever see."
When I pulled up to the Walnut Lane Golf Club to watch Patrick take a lesson, he was indeed in gorgeous form, sinking 12-foot putts.
Molloy, 16, is a sophomore at Council Rock High School. Unlike Mickelson, Molloy is blind.
"That sound," he said, grinning as the ball spun and dropped in the cup, "is the best sound."
Club pro Dave Smith had never taught a blind golfer before, but didn't hesitate to take Patrick on seven years ago when asked by a colleague working with the Mid-Atlantic Junior Blind Golf Association (www.mabga.org).
"You don't need to see the ball to hit it," Smith reasoned.
Instead, they work by feel and foundation, rote and repetition.
At one point, Smith lined up two-by-fours to create a lane so Molloy could perfect his stance and alignment. Later, Molloy squeezed a rubber ball between his arms to determine how far apart to keep them.
Like any student, he learns by trial and error. Where did your follow-through end when you hooked the ball to the left? How did you position your hands when you drove it high and straight?
"It's all muscle memory," Molloy explained. "My body remembers the positions."
Seeing is believing
Molloy was one of the star attractions at last weekend's annual junior blind golf outing at the Overbrook School for the Blind. All 35 of these kids made magic.
Watching blind youngsters swing, miss, smile, listen, try again, and connect should make sighted players rethink throwing tantrums.
Patrick Morris, a shy 6-year-old from Havertown, was back for his third year. It's amazing he has time, between baseball and acting.
"He was just in The Wizard of Oz," said his father, Dan Morris.
Kristie Hong, 11, has peripheral vision and wants to tackle a sport.
"If she likes golf," said her father, Ke Hong, of Basking Ridge, N.J., "I'll learn and play with her."
By the look of Kristie's face, he might want to invest in some clubs.
Kritz, who is sighted, and Gil Kayson, who is not, founded the junior blind golf group in 1980. Any visually impaired youngster in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware who wants to play receives free lessons and clubs - Kritz cuts them to fit after measuring each child.
"A blind golfer can putt just as well as your typical bad sighted golfer," joked group president Jim Ganter, who was playing alongside an 89-year-old blind man who shot a hole-in-one.
Sensing my skepticism, Kayson told me about a Golf Digest test with 12 sighted golf novices, six of them blindfolded.
"After 10 lessons, the blindfolded golfers were doing better," he recalled. "They kept their heads down. They focused on the ball."
Fun in focus
For the nine-hole scramble, Molloy was paired with Julia Procopio, a 17-year-old from Verona, N.J., wearing a pink "Princess" visor and matching magenta nail polish. She doesn't play often - piano is her thing - but can see enough out of her right eye to know that Molloy, who was born blind, takes the game very seriously.
On the final hole, Molloy chipped a respectable 25 yards onto the green. Smith walked his student from where the ball landed to the flag so Molloy could get a mental picture of how far he still had to go.
Smith, always in teaching mode, lined Procopio up to putt. "Super," he said, "you're to the left by, like, two feet." Then, it was Patrick's turn to shine with an easy finish.
"Yes!" he said, hearing the telltale clink-clink.
"Yo, Patrick," Procopio yelped, "heckuva job!"
"The rough was high today after all the rain," Smith allowed. "They had U.S. Open challenges."
"But that's the fun of it," replied Molloy, "the challenge."