By Mathilda Andersson
AUSTRALIAN para long drive world champion Dave Sawtell is determined to defend his title in Mesquite, Nevada later this year, if he can get the funding.
Tugun local Dave Sawtell, 49, was born with Spina Bifida and is a paraplegic since birth.
His condition has made him paralysed from the waist down, confining him to a wheelchair. But the disability hasn’t hampered the avid sportsman from excelling at the sport he loves and hitting a golf ball further than any other disabled athlete, claiming the State, National and World Championship Long Drive title.
Despite only being able to use his right arm to swing from a seated position, Sawtell managed to unleash a remarkable drive of approximately 180m last October, and brought home the world title in the Unites States.
“I was very happy to win last year, but I was disappointed that I didn’t beat my Australian long-drive record of 191m,” he said.
“I feel very, very confident going back to compete this year. I’m in good form.”
In Mesquite, Sawtell also succeeded to place third in the division for golfers standing up with help of a Paragolfer, competing in his own conventional wheelchair.
“They said I wouldn’t beat any of the golfers in that division, but I placed third out of eight contestants,” he said. “I’m very proud of that.”
Paragolfer, A Game Changer
Sawtell, who is a prior weightlifting champion, competitive swimmer and marathon kayaker, started his astonishing golf journey 10 years ago soon after he had finished a 15 hour long marathon paddle from South Bank, Brisbane to Surfers Paradise.
“A mate of mine was worried about sharks in the water during my kayaking and suggested I did something safer on land instead, like golf,” he chuckled.
“It took me about three months to hit the ball properly, and six months to win my first championship title.”
Since then, Sawtell has improved on his track record with an out-of-competition best of an incredible 218m, and with certainty he can hit the ball further yet.
With help of the electric chair called “Paragolfer”, allowing him to swing with both arms from a standing upright position, he is confident he could take his driving game to the next level.
“The chair would be a game changer for me but it costs almost $30,000 to buy,” he said.
With or without the Paragolfer, the long-drive specialist is determined to make it back to the world championship in Mesquite near Las Vegas this year to defend his title, and is practicing regularly at Chinderah Golf Club in Tweed Valley and at the gym.
But the limits of a disability pension are not only preventing Sawtell from getting the specialised chair, but are jeopardising his dream of upholding the world title in America.
“My disability pension is not much and I need to raise money for plane tickets, accommodation and care hire in order to compete in November,” he said.
“I need to raise around $10,000 to get to Mesquite this year.
”Organised To A Tee
Due to his disability, Sawtell also requires a small team to assist him during the trip.
Last year, good friends Scott Cranfield and Dave Budge took time off work to join Sawtell on his journey overseas. This year he wants to bring his coach, John Nobel.
“Embarking on a trip of this magnitude is a monumental job for someone in a wheelchair,” Sawtell said. “Everything needs to be organised to a tee.”
“Last year was my first time out of Australia and a tremendous experience, but the 10 days felt a bit rushed and I would like to stay a few more days this time to get my mind ready.
“I want to enjoy the experience properly and maybe go and see a show in Las Vegas after [the competition] if I’m able to.” Sawtell, who gained his Level 1 Community Coaching Accreditation back in 2007, has assisted Golf Queensland at clinics for other disabled golfers and says he is happy to work in order to raise the money for his trip.
“Last year we organised a golf day at Chinderah and managed to raise around $7000 towards the trip. I’ll do it again if it means I get the money to compete,”
he said. Sawtell is passionate about helping to grow the sport he loves and assisting other disabled people around Australia. His dream is to be able to organise some private teaching in the future and to get more people in similar situations to play golf.
“I always say that being in a wheelchair is not a disability. It’s a way of life, so live.”
FOOTNOTE: The 2015 Para Long Drive Worlds event held on November 9,10, 11 at the world-famous Long Drive “Grid” at the Mesquite NV Sports & Event Complex, is featuring amputees, paralyzed and blind golfers and is fast becoming a movement for reaching Paralympic status. The contestants may be swinging the club with one arm, a prosthetic leg or from a paramobile cart. Mesquite has been home to the World Long Drive Championships since 1995 and seen by millions on ESPN and the Golf Channel.