Forget the major championships. Forget the tour money. Forget everything you ever knew, or learned, or saw, about/in/toward golf … unless you play adaptive golf, because of circumstance. In that case, this will resonate with you. Andreas Brandenberger, or ANDREPAPADRE on Twitter, is an adaptive golfer. Watch this video to understand why, then continue with our intro:
Swinging into #2020 like a rock-?!!
Looking forward to an exciting year ahead! #adaptivegolf #phocomelia #SwingYourSwing @salem_golf @PingTour @adidasGolf #heretocreate — hey @maxhoma23 lets give this another try?? ? ? pic.twitter.com/Y49VLNB4wa
— Andreas Brandenberger (@andrepapadre) January 2, 2020
Got it? Good. This is golf as it has ever meant to be. Golf despite circumstance. Golf, exceptionally. Golf that embraces all that humanity offers. Andreas Brandenberger tells us his story below. As we treasure the stories told to us by Dr. Calvin Sinnette, told to us by LaRee Sugg, told to us by Debert Cook, so do we treasure the story of Andreas Brandenberger. In difference, we find common ground. In distinction, we find aspiration. In Andreas Brandenberger, we find golf’s essence.
1. Your name is Andreas Brandenberger and you are a golfer. Tell us about your life growing up, the first 33 years of your time on Earth.
I was born in Athens, Greece and adopted at the age of 2. I grew up with 5 older siblings on a small farm near Lawrence, Kansas. From early on I was taught the value of hard work and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. My approach to life has been similar. Because of my disability I had to learn alternative ways to do everything. It helped that my family encouraged me to try things on my own, knowing that often it would end in failure. They knew if I was going to be successful in life, that I needed to learn how to fall, get back up and keep going until I succeeded. I was also lucky to have great group of friends around me, who constantly made sure I was always part of the group. All anyone ever wants is just to belong. With their help and guidance, I was confident I could do whatever I set my mind too.
2. Since your story cannot be told without a reference to Phocomelia, could you tell us about it, its implications, and your management of it?
Phocomelia is a congenital deformity in which the limbs are shortened. In my case, only my upper extremities are affected. Both of my arms stop near elbow length and my hands are both underdeveloped, with just a few digits on each hand instead of 5 full fingers. As a kid I learned to do everything without the help of prosthetics and when someone would try to introduce something, it tended to be more difficult for me to try and use it. I believed my hands could do anything; I just needed to learn how to use them efficiently. Since I couldn’t easily speak to someone with a similar disability, I had to learn via trial and error. And try I did! I wanted to do everything everyone else was doing and I believed if I just had a chance, I could do all the same things!
One of the most challenging aspects of my disability is having to reach for things differently and having to hunch and bend my shoulders inward to in order to grab things which makes my shoulders and back sore from constant stress. To combat that I have made it a mission to stay in the best physical shape possible. Not only does it help in my athletic desires, I feel it’s important for my overall mobility and longevity of life. There are other personal items that are difficult with short arms and as I get older and less flexible, that are becoming more of an issue and I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to make it easier on myself.
3. In your USGA interview, you talk about being a “shoo-in” for soccer. Fair enough, but you also wrestled. Quite different, being a sport where arms and hands are as critical as legs. Tell us about that experience.
Throughout my childhood I wound up playing a wide range of sports; basketball, soccer, football, cross country, and I even wrestled! Soccer was my first sport and I started in elementary school and was instantly hooked. It was an amazing feeling to be part of a team and what made it even sweeter, it was the first thing I excelled at and laid the foundation for my love of sports and how to compete. It was a perfect fit for me, it required no use of my hands, and required top fitness and teamwork to succeed. All things at which I had a natural ability of. Before high school started, I was approached by the wrestling coach, and he encouraged me to try out for the team. He smiled and jokingly said, “don’t worry, everyone makes the team.” I went to a camp he hosted over the summer and the rest is history. I fell in love with the sport and little did I know, it would have one of the most positive effects on my life.
Wrestling was monumental in my personal development, it helped instill confidence and belief in myself. Nowhere to hide on a wrestling mat – it forced me to conquer personal fears of being stared at and being out in front of the entire world to see my short arms. Without wrestling I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. From day 1, Coach Harris believed in me; that the strength I had both physically and mentally to compete and be successful. He knew from day one, I could be a successful wrestler. My goal was to go from a kid who had never a wrestled, to a state tournament qualifier where you must earn your way in. And by my senior year, I successfully won my way in. With the help of my naturally strong legs and my favorite hold, the “Scissor hold” I did just that. Goal achieved!
4. You came to golf after watching a show on George Utley, also golfing with Phocomelia. What compelled you to take the sport up, after watching him golf?
After high school I attended the University of Kansas. It was during that time I saw a video of a gentlemen named, George Utley who had a similar disability to mine and he was playing golf. In the video he said he could do all these things but what really drove him was being told, he can’t do something. That struck a chord with me. My entire life people have told me what it is I can’t or won’t be able to do and I have used that as motivation and went out and did it anyways. And this new challenge of playing golf was going to be no different. I watched his video on repeat and then went out and grabbed a piece of wood, like what he used with his clubs and began practicing my swing. Fast forward about ten years and I have developed my own swing and to this day owe George a debt of gratitude for showing me what IS possible. I hope to someday be able to play a round of golf with him and thank him personally for the gift he didn’t even know he gave me.
5. Talk a bit about two things: how you fit equipment for your swing and address position, and what elements of the swing are most important for your success.
My club design originated from the videos I saw of Mr. Utley. Since I didn’t know the first thing about club making, I went to some people I thought could help point me in the right direction. With the help of the golf coaches at the University of Kansas, I found a local club fitter out of Kansas City named Bob Borring. I showed him the videos and asked if he was up to the challenge of making me my own set. He was thrilled with the challenge and agreed. He came back a few weeks later with my first ever set of custom-made golf clubs!
The shaft was a combination of two shafts since I needed all the length possible and on the end, I held, we called the paddle, was a 14-inch piece of 2 x 4 wood that was sanded smooth to fit nicely under my left armpit and had a hole for shaft and was glued tight.
My first set of clubs included a 3W, 7i, 9i, W and putter. I remember the day Bob told me they were complete. He said “It was an honor to build these, I hope you like them. If you end up loving golf than these are my gift to you. If you don’t end up liking golf, at least you have some decent kindling.” I guess you could say I became quite found of golf.
As I slowly got better, I quickly realized I was going to need a lighter set of golf clubs and a few more options while I play. As luck would have it I was got connected with the folks at PING and told them what I was looking for and wondered if they could help. To my surprise they said yes and went to work designing and building the clubs I use today.
I met with their engineers and demonstrated how I swung the club and let them come up with the rest. Each club has an identical paddle on the end that I stick under my left armpit and hold firm with my arms. My swing motion is like that of a hockey player’s swing.
When I address the ball, I put the ball just inside my left foot and use my naturally athletic stance to find my comfort zone. The only club that is different is my putter, which looks like a long belly putter. I stick the end of the putter grip in my armpit and rest the shaft along my forearm. I’m still working on things and finding the best spots for me to stand. It’s a work in progress and I guess this is where I’m just like everyone else. I’ve had to teach myself with trial and error until I have found what works. I’m getting more confident in myself every time I go out and play. The most important part of my swing is believing in myself. I know I can hit the ball now, and I know when I contact it correctly the ball really takes off.
6. Tell us about your most enjoyable time(s) on the golf course.
I have fallen in love with golf. I enjoy the challenge it present both physically and mentally. Since I’ve moved to Oregon, I have started walking more while playing and I feel that too has added in my enjoyment of the game. Walking 5-6 miles and playing adds another layer of difficulty to it. My most enjoyable times on the golf course is when I can spend time with friends just hanging out and playing. What keeps me coming back for more is the thought that I can figure this game out and that I will be successful at it.
7. Is golf a recreational activity, or do you compete in tournaments. If you compete, how does the competition differ from the fun golf and the practice?
Golf started out as something I can do recreationally with friends and has slowly morphed over the years into something more. My approach to the game is constant – I want to do my best every time I step out on the course and I will always have fun while playing. But deep down I’m working towards something bigger and each day on the course is a chance at improving my game and getting a little better.
Over the past few years there has been a real push for Adaptive Golf Tournaments for people with disabilities and they have been growing in popularity and size across the world. I have competed in one tournament and had a blast. My hope moving forward is to start competing in more of these events and see where it can take me. If I can keep improving every day, the sky is the limit for what I can achieve. Regardless of any accolades, at the end of the day I’m just happy to be able to play.
8. Give us a sense of your plans for the coming decade of your life and golf. What goals do you hope to realize?
My first ten years of playing golf has been all about learning the game and how I can play it. The next ten years I’m going to go for broke and be the best golfer I can be. I plan to start competing in events regularly and help grow Adaptive Golf so that the next generation can hit the ground running. I hope to inspire people to get out and play. Providing access for all to play this sport is very important and will only help solidify its place as one of the greatest sports ever. Hopefully I can give back as much as it has given me. I don’t know where the road will take me over the next ten years, but I can guarantee its going to be an exciting journey filled with lots of birdies.
9. What question do you wish w.e had asked? Ask it and answer it, please. Thank you for your time.