Inspirational Caddie Already Owns One National Golf Title
August 18, 2015 | OLYMPIA FIELDS, ILL.
By Dave Shedloski
Nearly two years ago to the day, Brandon Rowland won a national golf title. This week at Olympia Fields Country Club, he’s hoping to help win another.
Rowland, 35, is the caddie for Sydney Chung, one of the 312 golfers who began competing in the 115th U.S. Amateur Championship Monday at this historic club outside Chicago. The two men are regular playing partners at Jackson Country Club in Jackson, Tenn., where Chung has to give Rowland a few strokes.
It’s not that Rowland isn’t a good player – he has a Handicap Index of 5.0. He also is a double amputee, having lost both legs below the knee because of a rare childhood blood disorder.
The aforementioned victory two years ago came in the National Amputee Golf Association Championship, in which Rowland shot a cumulative 242 for 54 holes in the multiple amputee division, carding 81-84-77 at Wilderness Ridge Golf Club in Lincoln, Neb. He finished as the runner-up defending his title last year.
This summer, though, he is helping Chung, and the two have made a potent team in the weeks leading up to the championship. Chung, 22, who, coincidentally, was born in Olympia Fields but moved away when he was 3 years old, won the Stone Cup a few weeks ago in Tennessee. He followed up by capturing medalist honors in a U.S. Amateur qualifier at his home course.
“We figured we’re on a roll, so let’s just keep going,” said Chung, a senior at the University of Memphis who is playing in his first USGA championship. “He’s been a big help to me. He knows my game and personality and knows what to say at the right time.”
Rowland, who is permitted to use a cart to assist Chung, was stricken with dissemination intravascular coagulation (DIC) when he was 6 years old. Doctors believe that he contracted DIC after a bout of strep throat. The blood tends to clot on its own, leading to complications that are often fatal.
“They call it DIC, which also stands for ‘Death Is Certain’ because it has a 97 percent mortality rate,” Rowland explains. “They basically amputated my legs in order to save my life because the clots move up eventually into the vital organs. A lot of times it doesn’t work, but it did in my case.”
Largely self-taught, Rowland got interested in golf while a teenager and played more frequently in college at University of Tennessee-Martin, but he was limited in his abilities by the quality of the prosthetics available to him. It’s no surprise that he has improved as his artificial limbs have evolved.
“Technology is great,” he said with a big smile. “Legs that were comfortable and functional weren’t available before, but they are now. I still struggle a bit with uneven lies. I still have limits, but I have worked hard to get better.”
He currently is a sales representative and patient-care coordinator for an Alabama-based company, Fourroux Prosthetics. He joined the company after seeking out their product for his own use. “I always say that playing golf is like part of my job. I can show people what I can do,” Rowland said.
Rowland had not caddied before taking Chung’s bag at the Stone Cup. He said they make a good team because they have similar personalities and senses of humor. And although he is not at Chung’s level, he feels like his opinion is respected.
“I’m just good enough that he trusts me. He respects my golf knowledge,” Rowland said. “We have a blast together. I can see the shots that he is trying to play, but the difference is he can pull them off. He’s a very cool player. He doesn’t get rattled. I would love to be playing, but at this point it’s more fun watching him hit the shots.”
Rowland said he was grateful to the USGA for allowing him the use of a cart, which Chung cannot ride in, because all competitors are required to walk.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of all this, to participate in a national championship,” he said. “It’s been great. It’s cool. However we do, it’s just been very special to be a part of this atmosphere, and it’s something I won’t ever forget.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.