A Story Still Worth Hearing
Feb. 25, 2008
Kevin Hall has always dreamed of becoming a professional golfer. Now that he is one, he is realizing it is one of the toughest things he has ever had to endure. Unlike his playing days at Ohio State, Hall has no teammates and is only competing for one person. That person is also the one who is now paying all the bills. But Hall has been no stranger to tackling obstacles throughout his life, and actually, he has become quite good at it as well.
Not only was Hall the first African-American golfer in Ohio State history, he was also the first deaf one as well. In fact, make that, as the doctors would say, profoundly deaf.
This is a unique story because in a way, Hall's has already been told. In 2003, this particular writer had the chance to meet Hall in Bloomington, Ind., at the 2003 Big Ten Championships. Less than a year later, we had the opportunity to sit down and collaborate on a lengthy feature story that was posted on bigten.org a few weeks prior to the 2004 Big Ten Championships.
At that time, A Story Worth Hearing was just that. In fact, give yourself 10 minutes, click on the link, read the story, and then come back to this one. Because what is most moving about Hall's story is that it has continued to follow this fairy tale path since we published what we thought was a fairly complete life story.
In just one month's time, Hall's story called for a new chapter to be written.
At the 2004 Big Ten Championships, held at the University of Michigan Golf Course in Ann Arbor, Hall lapped the field with a record-breaking 54-hole score of 199 to claim the individual title while helping Ohio State to the team win. Hall's victory made him the first Buckeye to win the Big Ten Championship since Ryan Armour in 1998 and helped OSU to its first team title since 1997. Ohio State's 842, also a 54-hole conference record, bested second-place Illinois by five strokes, while Hall paced the rest of his Big Ten competitors by a mind boggling 11 strokes. His consecutive rounds of 66-65-68 were made possible by 16 birdies, one eagle, two bogeys and one double bogey. He earned first-team All-Conference and All-Big Ten Championship honors as well.
"It was unreal," Hall typed in an e-mail interview. "I didn't exactly come into the tournament in the best of form, but I had worked extremely hard two weeks prior to the tournament so I was feeling somewhat confident. It was a feeling I can't describe even to this day. I still think about the tournament from time to time and I still get goose bumps thinking about it."
What was equally special for Hall was the fact that he captured the Big Ten title on Mother's Day, in the presence of his father Percy and mother Jackie.
"It was very important to me because my parents sacrificed a lot to make sure I have a better life than they did, and for them to witness their work upfront was extremely satisfying," Hall said. "Everything I accomplish is because of them."
For Jackie Hall, her son's win meant much more than any other of his collegiate victories because it happened on a day when she too was thinking about her mother.
"Kevin realized that was going to be my first Mother's Day without my mother," she said. "He said in his heart he was going to do something to take that off my mind."
Jim Brown has spent 35 years coaching the men's golf team at Ohio State and he vividly remembers two distinct moments from Hall's special day in Ann Arbor, including one that he says he will always cherish.
"Well, it happened on Mother's Day," Brown recalled, "and when Kevin's mom came running out to the 18th green, he said, `That is your Mother's Day present.' But that was the only time in 35 years I had been to a tournament where every player on every team stood up and clapped when Kevin received his trophy. All the kids came up to me and told me how great he was and what a gentleman he was. He just has a lust for life and I have never seen him have a bad day."
Just a few months following his monumental win, Hall graduated from Ohio State as a scholar-athlete with a 3.2 grade-point average and a degree in journalism, certainly something even more interesting given his limits. But Hall has lived his life with no limits. His parents promised to raise him as a "normal" person because he never saw his hearing loss as a handicap. He always saw it as an opportunity.
In fact, as Hall spends his time and his money chasing his dream, he does not try to lure potential sponsors or tournament directors with his story. Hall continues to work hard toward earning his PGA Tour card, returning to the qualifying school each year to earn the right to play with the world's best. But as a member of the Hooters Tour, Hall will occasionally apply for and be offered a sponsor's exemption for a PGA Tour or Nationwide event.
During a press conference at the 2006 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he was competing on a sponsor's exemption, Hall explained his honest approach.
"When I write my letters to tournaments, I tell them that I'm deaf and I tell them that I'm black," Hall said. "And then I tell them I don't want them to look at me as different. I want them to look at me as a person who got through life, fighting and working hard. And I want them to look at me as a person who wants a chance -- a chance to play with the best players in the world."
In February 2007, Hall earned a chance to play with the best player in the world during a casual round with Tiger Woods at Isleworth, his home course outside Orlando. A friend of Hall's family set up the meeting between the two, which ironically was not their first meeting. As told in aforementioned first story on Hall, the two met when hitting balls on the practice range five years ago. Woods gave Hall a swing tip and told him that he would see him on the PGA Tour someday. How profound that he was actually right.
"The experience was great," Hall said. "I got to see the best player in the world up close and observe how he prepares. There is no one on the planet that works harder than Tiger Woods. No one."
But for Hall's father, Percy, that type of work ethic is something he sees in his son.
"You never have to force Kevin to go do what it is he has to do," he said. "I get a chance to travel with him and its fun being there and seeing him achieve what he is trying to do."
While mom is back home working in Cincinnati, Hall and his father work together toward the common goal. On several occasions, Percy has been Hall's caddy, noting that despite being his greatest fan, sometimes working for his son can be stressful.
"I am helping him as a caddy while still being a father and wanting him to do well," Percy said. "But one of the funniest things that happened when I was caddying for him was when he was playing at the Western Amateur. The caddies were talking about getting $150 to $200 (for their services), and Kevin didn't even have his wallet."
Percy was surely reimbursed for his efforts and recently Hall's money situation has become a little more comfortable. This past January, he shot 70-66-66 to capture a four-shot victory in a Hooters Tour Bridgestone Winter Series event. The win earned him nearly $12,000 and has since moved him to third on the money list.
It has never been about the money though. While the win in January was arguably the most significant of his career, it might not have been the most meaningful. In fact that win might have come in the summer of 2007 while competing in the US Deaf National Championships in St. Louis. Yes, he won the event at 12-under-par, 25 strokes better than the runner-up, but it was also the first time Hall had an opportunity to play with other deaf golfers, many of whom have idolized Hall over the years.
"There were times I forgot I was playing in a tournament because I was too busy being engaged in conversations and signing with other golfers," he said. "But it was especially sweet winning the tournament as well and having all those golfers congratulating me and telling me that they will keep an eye on my progress and support me."
Hall understands that there are others out there that indeed look up to him, and he serves that role seriously. As much as he was lauded for his performance on the golf course at Ohio State, Brown says he also remembers Hall for his work both in the classroom and the community.
"Lot of people called up and ask him to do things, and he never turned him down," Brown said. "He was one of the greatest team players and hardest workers I have ever had."
Looking back, Hall's parents will tell you that the family has operated with the understanding that they are not responsible for what happen, but they are for how they respond.
The response, both by Hall and his parents, has been nothing short of inspirational and courageous.
H-flu meningitis took Hall's ability to hear at age 2.
Nearly 25 years later, he remains proof that nothing can take away your ability to dream.