By Jamie H. Vaught
A celebrity golfer recently made an appearance in Pineville in southeast Kentucky as a part of his national tour, entertaining the local folks, mostly kids, with his trick shots at Wasito Winds Golf Course at Pine Mountain State Park.
Dennis Walters (pictured), who is nationally well known in golf circles, brought a golf bag of tricks and displayed his powerful shots with a wide assortment of unusual clubs.
If you were there, you'd have noticed that Walters couldn't walk on a golf course or anywhere else. He is paralyzed from the waist down due to a tragic golf cart accident many years ago when he was 24.
But he somehow is able to play the sport he loves and swing golf clubs with an aid of a swivel seat on his golf cart.
"I discovered golf when I was 8 years old and have been in love with it ever since," said 65-year-old Walters, who lives in Florida. "I love golf because it is difficult. If it was easy, everyone could play well and what fun would that be?"
During his early days, he became a golf star, winning three New Jersey state championships and earning a golf scholarship at North Texas State where he competed against future pros Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, among others.
However, his dream of being a member of PGA Tour ended in 1974 after that life-changing accident.
After initial struggles, he was determined to find a way to stay with the sport he loves. Walters in 1977 established his own traveling program called the "Dennis Walters Golf Show," which provides golf and life lessons as well as entertaining the crowds with his spectacular golf tricks.
The show, which also includes a pet dog, became very popular over the years and Walters has been featured in many media outlets, including the New York Times, Golf Channel, CBS News, among others.
Walters was asked how he turned a negative of being paralyzed and losing his golf dream into a positive of playing golf and being a role model in his life.
"I just followed my own advice. If your dream doesn't work out, get a new dream," said Walters, who received the 2008 PGA Distinguished Service Award, the golf organization's highest honor.
The prestigious award honors outstanding individuals who show leadership and humanitarian qualities such as integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf. Some of the PGA Distinguished Service Award Recipients have included folks like Bob Hope (1989), President Gerald Ford (1991), Arnold Palmer (1994), President George H.W. Bush (1997), Jack Nicklaus (2000), Vince Gill (2003) and President Bill Clinton (2014).
For Walters, it's sure a nice company to be in and he deserves it.
In 2002, he also wrote an inspiring biography, titled "In My Dreams I Walk With You," with James Achenbach. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus wrote a foreword for the volume.
While Walters said he doesn't really have a current favorite golfer, he has one from the past -- a legendary figure.
"My favorite golfer is Ben Hogan and I was lucky to have met him six times," he said of one of golf's all-time greatest players, who died in 1997.
Walters said on his Web site that his favorite place to visit is the legendary Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, the site of eight U.S. Open golf tournaments.
At his Pineville appearance, Walters told the First Tee of Pine Mountain participants that having a good and determined attitude makes a big difference. They can be very special, encouraging them to reach for their dreams, striving for excellence and to do something they thought impossible.
First Tee, a popular junior golf organization that connects the youngsters to golf and life lessons, is one of several national sponsors supporting Walters' show, which also appears at local golf tournaments throughout the country.
After giving a hopeful message to Kentuckians, he took his traveling show to Tennessee.
Needless to say, Walters is certainly is a huge inspiration. If he can do it, then anyone can overcome an obstacle and reach for his or her own dream.
As Walter says, "Never give up!"
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle. He can be reached via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.