CHEYENNE – Golf used to consume Benjamin Cole’s thoughts.
Like most players, he dreamed about how far the game could take him.
Nearly losing his sight changed his perspective.
“Before this happened, it was golf or nothing,” said Cole, who was home-schooled but played golf for Cheyenne East. “I was barely thinking about a career other than golf.
“I came to the realization that I used golf to get to college, but I am at college to get an education. I can’t just focus on golf 100% of the time.”
Cole’s vision problems started in January 2018. He had had floaters before, but was seeing more than usual. He told his eye doctor about them, and was assured they were normal.
By April, Cole’s problems increased to blurry vision, depth perception issues, and his floaters increased in size and obstructed his vision more.
His eye doctor took some scans before sending him to a retinal specialist in Colorado. There, Cole was diagnosed with intermediate uveitis.
His immune system was attacking his eyes causing them to swell. Cole was tested for a handful of autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis and lupus.
“My problem was idiopathic,” Cole said. “My immune system was attacking a non-existent infection. The doctors told me I was lucky because it could have been irreversible if I had waited even a week longer.”
Cole was given fast-acting medications, and had surgery on his right eye.
“I was shocked,” Cole said. “It’s not something you expect to hear as an 18-year-old who hasn’t hit his head or punctured his eye. I went to the doctor thinking they would slap some glasses on me and I’d be fine.”
Cole saw progress in his eyes, but it wasn’t enough to keep it from impacting his final season of high school golf.
Cole couldn’t see his ball as it flew to its destination. He also struggled to find it so he could hit his next shot. Instead of letting his eyes dart around to while looking for the ball, Cole had to keep his eyes still and move his head. Moving his eyes kicked up the floaters an made it nearly impossible to see.
Cole’s East teammates helped him during qualifying rounds. His coaches had to help him navigate courses during tournaments.
“He’d hit a shot and say, ‘That felt good, how did it look?,’” said Blake Danni, who graduated from East this spring. “It was tough on him. He could line himself up pretty well, but he couldn’t see the ball.
“He hated golf for a while because it wasn’t fun for him anymore. He is starting to come back around to it.”
Cole got to the point he didn’t want to play anymore.
“It was supposed to be the way I was getting to college and, suddenly, I couldn’t play without help,” said Cole, who recently finished up his freshman season at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana.
“I wasn’t playing how I thought I should be, and that was extremely frustrating. I would just get mad on the course. I had to stop doing that. I was already set up for failure because I couldn’t see. I couldn’t get mad on top of that.”
Cole was clearly frustrated at times during his rounds at the 97th Wyoming State Amateur Championship, but placed fifth in the first flight with a three-round score of 23-over-par 239.
Cole’s vision may not be normal for another 10 years. He no longer has to drive to Denver twice per week for appointments, but he still has regular check-ups that call for his pupils to be dilated as he lies back in the chair. Eventually, Cole’s eyes are manipulate in a way that helps doctors see the extreme corners of his eyes.
Cole was considering a career in medicine before his vision struggles. He is shadowing doctors to see what interests him most. He is more determined than ever to get into medicine.
Cole has bigger things to accomplish in his life than winning golf tournaments.
“It’s not an injury or an illness that defines a player,” he said. “No matter how long this issue continues to define how I see the golf course, the chance I have to work on the game I can bring to the course each day and to improve is what helps me through this.”
Ten-year-old Molli Mulhall became the youngest player to win a flight in the Wyoming State Amateur Championships.
The Green River resident carded a three-round total of 68-over 284 to win the third flight.
“My putting was really good, and I hit the ball really good,” Mulhall said. “My approach shots got me really close. I had a lot of close putts.”
Mulhall – who will be a fifth-grader this fall – became the youngest player to play in the tournament when she entered last year.
He older sister, Ali Mulhall, is the back-to-back women’s champion. She is the youngest player to win the tournament.