Andreas Brandenberger has been escaping tough lies for as long as he can remember. Born with phocomelia, he lives with underdeveloped arms that stop at the elbow and connect to hands that contain just two fingers each. Brandenberger spent the first two years of his life in a Greek orphanage waiting for parents willing to welcome a child with a disability into their home.
Adopted by an American family, Brandenberger grew up in Baldwin City, Kan., watching Tiger Woods dominate a game he never thought he could play. Instead, he took up soccer.
“I didn’t need hands for that,” said Brandenberger, now 31. “I was a shoo-in.”
Brandenberger also wrestled, but everything changed when, in college, he saw a television feature on George Utley, a golfer with phocomelia. Inspired, Brandenberger told friends in the University of Kansas athletic department that he needed to learn the game. They put him in touch with a clubmaker named Bob Boring, who designed a custom set for Brandenberger. Boring attached curved wooden slabs to the shafts so that Brandenberger could tuck the clubs under his armpit.
“If you don’t like it, you’ll at least have some good kindling,” Boring joked.
“I went to the local driving range in Lawrence and the club went farther than the ball,” Brandenberger recalled. “I learned I had to hang on to it pretty tight.”
After graduation, Brandenberger took a job at a country club in Kansas City and met a Ping clothing salesman. The connection led to the company inviting Brandenberger in for a professional fitting and a new set of clubs.
“Golf allows me to be on the same playing field as other people,” he said. “Sports have always been my way to fit in. I developed a lot of self-confidence and belief in myself that I could go out and accomplish something even with my disability.”
Brandenberger would love to one day play in the USGA’s forthcoming national championship for players with disabilities. It’s part of the Association’s efforts to enhance the on-course experience for all who play the game, especially juniors, beginners and those with disabilities. In tandem with The R&A, the USGA has also launched a global ranking for golfers with disabilities and created a Modification of the Rules of Golf for Players with Disabilities, which allows these golfers to play equitably with those who are able-bodied.
“Disability is in the eye of the beholder,” said Brandenberger, who moved to Salem, Ore., with his fiancée in 2016. “I don’t like people to write my script for me. I want to write my own story.”
Jordan Schwartz is the senior manager of social media for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.