Blind since birth due to an optic nerve that never developed, Huston Nagy learned to golf with a metronome that relays the amount of strength or the gentle touch required on each shot.
But he doesn’t need the ticking device to tell him the diminutive height of Erin Craig, a golf professional at The Turn program with whom he’s worked for the past four years. With a heightened sense of hearing and his comedic sense of humor, Nagy picked that up on his own.
Craig got that joking comeuppance last year when the two were on the range at the campus of the Wharton Center North Olmsted Golf Club, headquarters of The Turn, which provides innovative programs for those with physical disabilities.
Nagy, 16, a rising junior at North Olmsted High School, hit a nice, high shot and Craig said she told him, “’You hit that taller than me.’” A volunteer helping Nagy chimed in with, “‘Well, that’s not very tall.’”
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“I’m like, ‘Huston is the only person who doesn’t know how tall I am,’” Craig said, retelling the story on June 20 at Firestone. “Huston’s response was, ‘Well, you sound kind of short.’”
Nagy didn’t remember that part, but Craig did. She stands 5-foot-½ inches, while Nagy is 5-7.
The two have developed an easy rapport as Craig has helped Nagy hone his game. When they started, Craig just wanted Nagy to make contact with the ball. Now she’s pushing him to hit fairway woods off the grass, not off a tee.
The Turn has given Nagy the opportunity to play competitive sports on an equal playing field. The non-profit is among the charities supported by the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, which runs July 7-10 at Firestone Country Club. Nagy will play in the Firestone Junior Cup on the West Course on July 6, the eve of the PGA Tour Champions’ fourth of five senior majors.
“Until golf came along, Huston was trying to participate in sports with his peers and he very much felt like he couldn’t do what everyone else could do,” his mother, Becky, a structural engineer for Stantec, said in a June 22 phone interview. “Like wrestling for example, he knew he was getting favored during a wrestling match. Or if he played basketball, he knew he wasn’t playing defense like everyone else could.
“When golf came along, he’s working with these other kids on his team and he very much feels like a teammate. Regardless of his disability, when they scramble, they’re using his shots sometimes.”
Becky Nagy said she was “blown away” at one of Huston’s recent matches in North Olmsted.
“He chipped one up from the backside of the bunker, over the bunker and onto the green and everyone just blew up cheering,” his mother said. “I don’t know how he did it, to be honest, but he did it.”
Nagy has the guidance of a caddie. He had the same one for his first two years before his family moved away; Tyler Peck of Olmsted Falls has taken over the last two years. But Nagy couldn’t play without the metronome, as Becky Nagy explained.
“They use a metronome to gauge his golf swing. The harder the swing needs to be, the quicker the beat. The slower the putt or chip that doesn’t need to go far, the slower the speed,” she said.
“His partner on the course or his teammates have that device for him because Huston doesn’t really understand, ‘You’re 30 yards away.’ He hasn’t captured that yet. Hopefully, that will come one day. But for now, that metronome is key for him.”
Nagy said he got interested in golf because his dad, John, who stays at home with his 2-year-old brother, and grandfather Dave Szabo, twice retired as an engineer for Cuyahoga and Medina counties, both played.
“I was like, ‘I kind of what to give this a try.’ I’ve played golf on PlayStation and it kind of just turned into this thing,” Nagy said.
Craig has seen drastic improvement, especially in his putting.
“One of his teachers works with us and they have people with disabilities and they put him in special classes,” Craig said. “His science teacher was like, ‘He needs to be in advanced classes.’ They pigeonhole people and don’t really look at the person as an individual. You get him talking about science and math and my eyes go googly-eyed. It’s very analytical. When we talk about the swing, we talk about math terms.”
Nagy has challenged Craig to a nine-hole match with her playing blindfolded.
“I’ve tried hitting some with my eyes closed, taking that club back and swinging through, and it’s a completely different feeling,” Craig said. “It’ll be interesting to play nine holes like that. I told him I have to get my own caddie because I didn’t trust any of the volunteers putting me in the right direction.”
Nagy takes swim lessons from coach Dan Lisy at Rec2Connect and played flag football for a while. Now golf and basketball, through another Bridgestone Senior Players-supported charity, Empower Sports, are his serious athletic pursuits.
Nagy’s primary passion is music, and his mother said he’s very gifted.
“Ever since he’s been little he’s wanted to be a music teacher,” Becky said. “That’s never changed. We’re starting to talk about colleges and how you’re really going to make this a reality and he’s still sticking with it.
“He’s played just about any instrument he can get his hands on. He does it well because he has perfect pitch and that’s because his hearing is a little bit more augmented than everything else.”
Nagy detailed his musical participation with metronomic precision.
He was in choir in fourth grade, then joined the band. In fifth grade he played French horn, in sixth grade switched to tuba, then moved on to trombone in seventh and eighth grades. He considered marching band as a freshman, but found out “concert choir was a thing.”
In his sophomore year, it was on to symphonic chorale. Now Nagy is a member of the a cappella group, Special Editions.
“All pop, contemporary a cappella. Think of it as the high school equivalent of Pentatonix,” Nagy said, referring to the three-time Grammy-winning group from Arlington, Texas.
Nagy also plays guitar and performed a mashup of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wonderwall” as a variety act during one of the spring festival of the arts concerts.
“He’s got a good voice,” his grandmother, Mary Szabo, of Strongsville, said at Firestone. “He tried out at the end of this school year … and they do a little bit of choreography with their singing. It’s like, ‘What are you going to do about the choreography?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, but I’m going to sing.’”
Mary Szabo thought back to when Nagy was 2 and 3 years old and his vision therapist worked with him at her and Becky’s houses.
“She said, ‘Just expose him to everything,’ so that’s what we’ve tried to do,” Mary Szabo said. “When you start to find out where your passions lie, if you can, go for it.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
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