‘It doesn’t matter whether we’re missing an eye or a limb or whatever. We’re all golfers.’
When Carol Brill and Kevin Cassidy get going there isn’t much stopping them. Whether thats on the golf course or over a zoom call.
It’s clear to see why they’d make a good team.
The Phoenix Cup
Both Brill and Cassidy will get to test that theory once again in September as the Irish pair were picked to represent Europe in the 25th anniversary of the Phoenix Cup.
Congratulations to Carol Brill (Stackstown Golf Club) and Kevin Cassidy (Dungannon Golf Club) who have been selected to represent Europe for the 25th Phoenix Cup.https://t.co/5Kz2HSx8AC
— CGI Supporting Golf (@CGI_Golf) April 28, 2020
The tournament is a pan-disability golf team event, and is similar to a Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup format, but played over five days, with September’s edition taking place in Scotland.
“I was and still am gobsmacked,” says Brill of her Phoenix Cup selection.
“I never take anything for granted. I felt really honoured. It is so nice to be included. I love all inclusivity.”
“I always win the lady prizes!”
Carol Brill suffers from Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic disease which affects both sight and hearing loss.
“You would have 180 degrees field of vision but I am down to only about three degrees,” she says. “If you were to get a sharp pencil and stab a hole using the nib to see out through, that’s what I see now.”
Brill is a member of Stackstown golf club and only got into the sport around five years ago. She needed a hobby and golf came into her life as a happy accident.
In Stacktown this morning, Captains Michael & Joan with members of the Irish Blind Golfers Association, including Stackstown members Philip Bond & current British Open Champion – Carol Brill. pic.twitter.com/p0mcqpFWC7
— Stackstowngolfclub (@StackstownGC) September 14, 2018
She found Irish Blind Golf and became it’s first lady member, ‘I always win the lady prizes,’ Brill jokes. For her though, the beauty lies in inclusion, something the Phoenix Cup is a shining example of.
“There are some areas where I would be excluded as a visually impaired golfer and that really drives me nuts but with the Phoenix Cup it’s incredible.
“People coming from different parts of the world and with different disabilities, but at the end of the day we’re all golfers. It doesn’t matter whether we’re missing an eye or a limb or whatever.
“We’re all golfers. That’s a beautiful feeling. We’re all golfers. We’re not different or special.”
Kevin Cassidy concurs. The Dungannon club member was in a lorry accident in 2012 and subsequently lost his leg two years later.
“When I got the message to say I’d made the team,” he begins, “I went around the house like a big child, like a big child. I couldn’t believe it.”
Cassidy had always been a keen golfer and through, as he puts it, ‘sheer stubbornness,’ he returned to the course just seven months after losing his leg.
Both Cassidy and Brill admit there are challenges that come with golf and their respective disabilities, on the course. Cassidy, for example, has to use a buggy every round. (He once beached one on the edge of a tee box with Brill beside him. One blames the other, depending on who you ask.)
The hidden challenges
There are also the hidden challenges. The mental struggles of jumping into an entirely new world, in Brill’s case, or of re-learning everything you once knew, in Cassidy’s case.
“Sometimes disability is a hidden subject, whether it is completely visible or invisible, Brill begins. “In my case it’s invisible, people wouldn’t know I had hearing and sight loss unless I was to fall over. ”
“It’s not just about a disabled person playing golf it is about the social attitudes. I was petrified of joining my local club which was Stackstown. I didn’t want to declare that I had a disability because I really felt like I was going to be a liability.
“If they saw me coming up the fairway they’d all shoot off and hide behind a tree for safety. I think its not only challenged my own beliefs, its also educating people who don’t know enough about disability.
“It’s not like they’re ignorant it is just that they don’t have the opportunity to learn.”
The mental side of the game
Brill’s disability is a degenerative one meaning she’s had to gradually accept its effects and their consequences over time. The loss of independence is understandably a mental burden, but finding golf has had a hugely positive effect on her mindset.
“Naturally, losing your sight and your hearing, you’re grieving for the loss of your independence.
“I can’t tell you the difference between colours even and so now I’m always having to ask people for help, which is tough. I grew up a very independent person I hated asking for help.
“I’ve had to learn, and it has its challenges mentally but I’ve learned to admit that I need help. It’s not easy. The golf was fantastic for me because I wear a fitness tracker and my stress levels go through the roof if I go down to the village.
“But when I’m on the course there’s no stress. I’m watching everything if I go down to the village, cyclists, kids, bins. It’s very stressful to get from A to B. On the course though, there’s a wonderful freedom and independence. It’s a huge boost.”
Cassidy can relate to the therapeutic quality the game can have on one’s life. After his accident he admitted he was in a difficult place mentally.
Golf though provided a refuge. Even if he had to relearn his swing and the struggles that go with that, the game helped him in the most challenging of times.
“I’ve worked on my game a lot. It was tough at the start, I set myself little goals. The first goal I had was to get myself a par in the society I played in. I didn’t get it on the first day I ended up getting a birdie which wasn’t even a target.
“I needed it mentally. I wasn’t in a good place mentally at the time of my accident. A man died in my accident. I don’t know what happened. My accident was on the Monday and I woke up on the Thursday. I wasn’t in a good place but the golf helps. For those three or four hours it’s needed. You can take your frustrations out on the wee white ball, its therapeutic.”
Exposure is vital
For disability sports and golf in particular, both Brill and Cassidy agree that awareness and exposure is key. They credit the Confederation of Golf in Ireland’s work with Irish disability golf in getting the sport where it needs to be.
It can and will go further though Brill believes, with the future looking very bright for disability golf in this country
“It’s down to the bodies of CGI who are supporting the setup of Irish disability golf. It just consolidates all the work the lads are doing at Irish disability golf. Trevor Hillen has had this dream for a long time.
“He’s been running these training hubs up in Donaghadee and his dream is becoming a reality through a lot of hard work. With the help of CGI that’s been a massive boost.
“We’re just only on the cusp of beginning and this is how we got to have someone like Kevin Cassidy join us! If we can get opportunities to talk about disability golf it’s always great.”
The Phoenix Cup takes place across 5 courses from the 15th to 21st September. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be Team Europe taking on Great Britain & Ireland.