Legally blind golfer uses a familiar spotter

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Ken Juskie (left) is a spotter for his son, Matt, who is a legally blind golfer for Lincoln-Way North’s team. Here, Ken marks a spot off the tee where Matt should aim during a tournament June 25 at Cog Hill No. 3 in Lemont.

When Matt Juskie tries out for the Lincoln-Way North boys golf team Wednesday. His father, Ken, will be there for nearly every step on the course.

Parents are not usually at tryouts with their son or daughter on the first day of preseason practice, but Ken and Matt Juskie have an unusual relationship on the golf course. That’s because Matt is an unusual golfer.

Matt Juskie will enter his third season on the varsity, but the Frankfort resident is unable to play golf without his father. Matt is legally blind and his father serves as his spotter. Since Matt can’t see the fairway from the rough, Ken serves as Matt’s eyes by giving him a picture of the hole, the yardage and an idea where Matt should aim even as the 6-foot, 205-pound senior is capable of creaming his drives more than 280 yards. Ken follows IHSA rules as an approved spotter and does not give Matt guidance on club or shot selection.

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Once he’s inside 50 yards of the hole, Matt waves off his father. Matt has learned to chip and putt on his own by pacing off the yardage. He keeps four wedges in his bag and plays without a 3-iron.

Ken has always been Matt’s spotter. That relationship has been going on for nearly 12 years. When Matt tried out and earned a berth on Lincoln-Way North’s JV team as a freshman, the IHSA approved his use of a spotter within days. Tryouts ended on a Friday. His parents sent in the medical form and the IHSA approved the use of a spotter on Monday.

SouthtownStar photo gallery of Ken and Matt Juskie in 2011.

Ken is able to spot for each of Matt’s dual meets and tournaments. He is the President of Linderlake Corporation, a land acquisition company led by his wife, Victoria, the company’s CEO.

“When he was in eighth grade and told me he wanted to play golf, I told him he would have to hit a thousand golf balls over the summer,” Ken Juskie said. “We would also have to get approval for a spotter. There is no way he can find his ball. I’m grateful to the IHSA for looking outside the box. If a kid can play, why not use a spotter? He’s not getting any special consideration. He’s not getting any (more information about the hole) than any sighted person has.”

But in a way, the old expression of “the blind leading the blind” fits Ken and Matt Juskie. Ken has coloboma, a hole in his eye. Ken is allowed to use a pair of Bushnell binoculars on the course now that the IHSA has approved range finders last year for all its golfers. Matt was born with both aniridia and nystagmus. He plays golf with special contacts and is capable of driving an automobile with the aid of specialized goggles from the Spectrios Institute of Low Vision in Wheaton. Matt earned his driver’s license after taking a training course through the Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton.

Matt writes an advice column (known as Ask M@) for the Illinois Association for Parents of Children With Visual Impairment (IPVI) and was the organization’s keynote speaker July 20 at an outing at Brookfield Zoo. He also serves on an IHSA committee for student-athletes with disabilities.

Matt grew up following his father along the golf course. Because of his visual impairment, Matt has never been able to play football or baseball.

After Matt’s birth, Ken agonized over his son’s congenital condition considering his own battle with coloboma. Ken and Victoria had one more child, Angela, who was born with normal sight. Angela, 12, currently plays softball. The Juskies also adopted two boys, Macauley, 13, and Ryan, 11. Ryan plays for a travel baseball team.

“It took me a few years. I had a tough time dealing with it,” Ken Juskie said. “I had a tremendous amount of guilt.”

Ken and Matt play out of the Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood. Matt is still searching for his first Class 3A sectional berth when the golf season begins later this month.

Matt isn’t a scratch golfer. He has worked very hard to improve his game and has become a regular on the Cog Hill Junior Tour. He shot a disappointing 90 to finish tied for 17th at the CHJT Championship Aug. 6 at Dubsdread. His round included a 10 on the par-4 16th hole, but Matt was satisfied with qualifying for his first CHJT Championship event. He could have given himself a Circle 9, a maximum score per hole according to CHJT rules, but decided to record his true score while in the season-ending championship.

However, he finished third in the Boys 16-18 division to end the season by playing in a division-leading 15 events over the summer. The division champion was his Lincoln-Way North teammate, John Orowick.

Matt was part of the Cog Hill team that won a Ryder Cup-style Tour Challenge Aug. 4 at Cog Hill over two other junior tour teams from around the Chicago area.

“The big thing I like to focus on is ‘You play golf,'” Matt Juskie said. “Some consider it a handicap. I really don’t. I find ways to adapt to it. I look at it as an obstacle. I learn to jump over it and I keep going.”

How does he do it?

When Matt Juskie greets his playing partners at the first tee, he informs them that he will be playing with a spotter as approved by the IHSA due to his visual impairment. Matt does not tell them that his father is the spotter.

Off the tee, Matt tees his ball up behind a divot each time as a guide. He can’t see the fairway or the hazards, so he communicates with his father whether the drive should go “center,” “left of center” or “right of center.” Matt can tell what direction his drive went.

“He can feel it come off the face,” Ken said.

Before each drive, Matt stands about five yards behind the ball while Ken walks to his teed up ball and points with his foot where Matt should aim.

On the hole, Ken uses trees and other markers to describe for Matt where the green is.

On the green, Matt breaks an unwritten rule for sighted golfers by actually walking in his putting line. He not only walks off the distance of the putt, but he can feel the contour and slope of the green under his feet.

“I can feel the exact undulation of the green,” Matt said.

Matt Juskie doesn’t let his visual impairment interrupt his enjoyment of golf.

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