R.J. Channon is on the practice green at the Bright Grandview Golf Course in Des Moines on a recent Tuesday afternoon. He lines up for a 20-foot putt, knees bent, wrists locked, tongue out, eyes focused. He tries twice, but misses both attempts.
Nearby, Rusty, his father, looks up. He heard R.J.’s frustration and waves to get his attention. R.J. quickly signs the word “right” — as in, the ball broke right early both times. Rusty nods.
“I don’t know much,” Rusty says, “but I do know that the game is won and lost on that green.”
R.J. tries again. The clouds overheard are dark and threatening. He’s the only one putting on this day, and among a few on the course in general. Rain swept through earlier in the day. The course is wet.
But that won’t stop him.
A junior on the Des Moines East boys’ golf team, R.J. is deaf. His inability to hear has created lifelong struggles, but it has not stopped him from pursuing his athletic dreams — first on the baseball field, and now on the golf course.
The 16-year-old navigates his disability with the help of his family, a welcoming coach and golfing community, a collection of interpreters and the instruction of a renowned golf instructor. This year, he’s posted an 18-hole average of 87.6, good for ninth in the CIML’s Metro Conference. He is believed to be one of the best golfers from East in the past two decades.
“The more you get to know him, the more you oversee that handicap,” said Bob Bagley, East’s boys’ golf coach. “And really, I don’t think he looks at it as a handicap at all. He’s overcome so much. He just loves the game.”