David Watts

David Watts

Powering Through Disability

“Good drive, nice way to finish,” Kelvin van Baalen said. Wrapped up in wrapping up another emphatic Cape Town Disabled Open triumph, David Watts stared into the distance knowing that the job wasn’t done. Not yet anyway. It’d only be done once the final putt dropped, clapping and cheering from the assembled crowd filling his ears.

The quiet but confident disposition Watts displayed on King David Mowbray Golf Club’s 18th tee has served the Durbanite well through his 37 years and been integral to the success he’s enjoyed despite the challenges of life with Fibular Hemimelia. 

Sport has been central to Watts’ ability to cope with the physical and mental rigours associated with having a series of leg-lengthening operations known as the ilizirov method which involves the breaking of the tibia in two places and inserting pins through the foot, ankle and right up to the knee. The pins were secured with a metal cage known as the Ilizarov. Four wheels attached to the Ilizarov were then tightened periodically and then loosened over six months.

Going through such an intense procedure once would be enough to break the spirit of most people. David underwent the procedure a staggering three times at the ages of 6, 11 and 16.

Through this tumultuous period cricket and golf sustained David’s spirit. 

“Cricket was something I really did enjoy but I enjoyed how in golf  you could just go and play and weren’t reliant on anyone else,” Watts reflects.

The path which has led Watts to the upper echelons of the World Rankings For Golfers With A Disability began on Kwa-Zulu Natal’s South Coast which afforded Watts the opportunity to develop his game at a time in his life life where disability and limitations were far from his mind.

“We used to go away on holiday to San Lameer which had an 18-hole golf course and a 9-hole Mashie course which was where I first started playing and then I went to lessons at Beachwood Country Club.

“As a 10-year-old child you don’t really think of what your problems are; you have a club and you have a ball and you hit it which is one of the beauties of being a child because you don’t overthink things.”

As Watts’ game developed it was only natural therefore that he sought out able-bodied golfers against whom to test his skills. Competing against the likes of future Sunshine Tour winners Jared Harvey and Martin Rohwer in events like the South African Amateur Championship and South African Strokeplay was perfectly normal.

Iron sharpened iron and when Watts joined the South African Disabled Golf Association in 2022, he had the game and the competitive experience to set the South African Golf For The Disabled landscape ablaze as he swept to victory in all five of the SADGA Opens he contested that year.

His trophy-laden exploits opened up a number of exciting doors, among them the opportunity to compete on the G4D Tour, in the US Adaptive Open and the inaugural G4D Open at Woburn Golf Club. 

From Wentworth to Pinehurst, golf for the disabled has afforded Watts a number of wonderful opportunities but his crowning moment came at Laguna National Golf Resort Club where he captured the G4D Tour @ Singapore Classic title after beating World no.1 Kipp Popert by two shots.

 The key to Watts’ success lies in dedicating himself to working with, not against, his limitations.

“One of the things I’ve learnt is doing what is natural to me under pressure because that’s how I can repeat it and that’s something I’ve worked quite hard on in the last year.

“I’ve worked hard to embrace what I have and use that rather than trying to be more technically correct.”

Watts may be embracing his unique physical make-up but he certainly isn’t letting it define or limit him. Despite finding an abundance of success within golf for the disabled, Watts still harbours aspirations of going back to his roots by competing against able-bodied players but will try trade South Africa’s premier Amateur stages for South Africa’s premier Professional stage, the Sunshine Tour. 

The Durban Country Club member is set to tee it up at Stage 1 of Sunshine Tour Qualifying School and is relishing the challenges the event will no doubt present. 

“Playing golf at the highest level has always been the goal for me and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Watts.

With a bit of luck and a few low rounds at First and Final stage of Qualifying School, Watts may swap King David Mowbray Golf Club’s 18th tee for Heron Banks’ 18th tee, his sights set not on the Cape Town Disabled Golf Open trophy but on a Sunshine Tour card and the realisation of a lifelong dream. 

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