The Loop

On a cold day, a heartwarming encounter

March 03, 2011

Leaving the office at lunchtime to go to the driving range is always a good decision. One day for me last December, it proved a great decision. In the shelter of a few "heated" bays on frozen turf mats, I shared an extra large bucket of yellow rocks with Sal Mancino and his eight-year-old son Michael, who has Asperger's syndrome. Also there was PGA professional Brian Flanagan, who gives lessons to father and son.

A month earlier I'd received a long e-mail from Sal in the "Golf Saved My Life" inbox. Like a lot of ex-jock dads, Sal wrote, his constant dream has been to share his love of sport with his son. But since Michael, their only child, has autism, no sport they ever tried has worked out. Until golf.

So happened the lofts of clubs and the calculation of yardages fed directly into the boy's fascination with math. While young Michael had problems catching footballs and reading body cues from teammates, it turned out he had just the right head for golf. When he wants to, Michael can block out the world and focus like Tiger (his hero), as well as put a pretty sweet move on a stationary ball.

The idea that golf may be perfectly suited to the temperaments of the autistic was intriguing. But as I finished reading the e-mail I thought to myself, So did golf save the son's life, or the father's?

I called Sal and arranged to meet at the driving range. With his location so close to the Golf Digest offices, how could we not? I suggested early afternoon when the sun might be warmest.

The rest is history, as ditching the office that day resulted in the above video and April issue column. Michael was a lot of fun to hit balls with. If I hadn't known, I might not have guessed he had a condition. If he maintains his dedication, like going to the driving range in the dead of winter wearing his wool cap and smile, I dare say he could grow up to be a serious player.

Watching Sal's eyes beam as he watched his son lose himself in re-teeing ball after ball, one thing became evident to me: I don't always have to be so literal. For this month's column, we could call it "Golf Saved Our Life."

*-- Max Adler