Eyes on the prize

Golfer Zohar Sharon began losing his eyesight in the 1970s following a chemical injury he suffered while working for the Shin Bet and in 2000 he took up golf on a full-time basis.

Zohar Sharon (right) with coach, caddie and best friend Shimshon Levi. (photo credit: NIMROD GLIKMAN)
Zohar Sharon (right) with coach, caddie and best friend Shimshon Levi.
(photo credit: NIMROD GLIKMAN)
Golfer Zohar Sharon is surely one of the most dominant athletes in the country. Since 2004, he has lost only twice, and even then only by a single shot. However, that is far from the most amazing aspect about him. Not only does he beat his rivals time and again, he does so without seeing.
The 62-year-old began losing his eyesight in the 1970s following a chemical injury he suffered while working for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), but he only took up golf on a full-time basis in 2000. He claimed the B1 title, the category of the totally blind, on his debut at the ISPS Handa World Blind Golf Championship 11 years ago, and he has retained his status as world champion in four championships since.
On Sunday, he will begin his participation in the ISPS Handa British Blind Golf Open at the Montgomery Course in Fife, Scotland.
The International Blind Golf Association was set up in 1998. Japanese businessman Dr. Haruhisa Handa provides financial support to the IBGA – and through it, to competitions around the world – having been inspired while playing golf with a blind golfer in Australia.
Currently there are about 400 registered blind golfers in the 15 member national associations. As there is no Israeli association for blind golf, Sharon became an individual associate, allowing him to participate in the different competitions. With the help of coach, caddie and best friend Shimshon Levi, he hasn’t looked back since.
Sharon took part in the Caesarea Golf Club tournament last week, playing in the main event, as he wanted to face some stiff competition ahead of the British Open. He carded rounds of 97, 97 and 98 – a remarkable achievement, considering his blindness.
“I preferred to be the tail of a lion than the head of a dog,” he tells Metro of his decision to play against opponents who could see the ball. “I could have taken part in a tournament which I would have won with ease, but I wanted three days of hard work. It paid off, as I played really well. With this kind of form, I could win the world championship again.”
Sharon credits his success to his work ethic.
“I’m at the golf course all the time,” he explains. “I train all day, every day, apart from Shabbat.”
Thanks to the funding of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization and the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitative department, he and Levi can travel the world and represent Israel with honor.
While not all the competitions award prize money, Sharon transfers all his winnings to the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization.
“I really enjoy beating all my rivals from across the world and showing them that an Israeli is the best,” he says.
His golfing career began completely by coincidence.
It happened when he was getting divorced from his first wife (he is now married for the third time). After delivering him his wife’s requests, her lawyer suggested he give golf a chance, by cutting a hole in a shoebox and handing him a golf club. It wasn’t long before the Caesarea Golf Club adopted Sharon – who has two children from his first wife and a seven-year-old from his third – and covered all his expenses, ultimately inspiring a project that has benefited many disabled IDF veterans.
“The Caesarea Golf Club officially adopted the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization in January of last year,” says Lior Pariti, general manager of the club. “We provide them with coaches and equipment, and even hold a tournament once a year.”
With around 15 disabled veterans becoming fullfledged players, Pariti says a second group is about to be launched and that in the future he hopes to hold an international tournament for the disabled in Caesarea.
Sharon, who received the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame’s annual Award of Excellence in 2013, may be the one who gets most of the credit, but his success is obviously entirely dependent on his cooperation with Levi.
The two go back many years; their fathers were also friends. Levi is Sharon’s eyes on the course, and he keeps a close eye on him throughout their trips abroad.
“When you have a partner like Zohar, there really isn’t much left for you to do,” says Levi. “He puts in so much work in practice that he is really ready for the tournaments.”
Levi was originally invited to join Sharon on the golf course after falling ill with mononucleosis, which forced him to leave his job as a contractor.
“It wasn’t easy at the start, but eventually the hard work paid off,” adds Levi.
“We are like a husband and wife, but without the sex,” jokes Sharon. “He worries about me a lot more than I do about myself. He had no background in golf, but he learned everything, and now he is also my coach. I was lucky he fell ill.”
Despite already having won five world titles, Sharon and Levi are desperate for many more, starting with next year’s event in Japan. It is far from easy work for Sharon, who is also hearing-impaired and suffers from a host of neurological problems. However, he has no plans to hang up his golf clubs – which he also uses as canes – any time soon.
“Even though I always win the competitions I participate in, it is always very difficult,” he says. “After the competition ends, I collapse, and it takes a week or two to recover. However, if I weren’t enjoying myself, I wouldn’t continue. I want to continue for as long as I can stand on my feet.”