With grandpa as caddie, legally blind golfer from NJ is winning international acclaim

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Blind NJ golfer Tyler Cashman making his mark on adaptive scene

Tyler Cashman, a visually impaired 20-year-old from Oldwick, is making his mark on the international adaptive golf scene.

Chris Pedota,

HIGH BRIDGE — Nothing seemed unusual as Tyler Cashman stepped up to the first tee at High Bridge Hills Golf Club for a mid-July practice. The golfer from Oldwick took a long look out toward the green, then stepped back and tried a practice swing.

Cashman, a 20-year-old business major at the University of Richmond, lined up over his bright orange golf ball.

His grandfather, George Cashman, quietly gave instructions.

“A little right,” he advised. Tyler shifted his weight, adjusting his feet by millimeters. “Right there,” his grandfather said.

Cashman teed off and watched as the ball soared toward the fairway, as any other player might. But he couldn’t follow his shot.

Tyler Cashman is legally blind, with less than 5% of vision in his left eye and 20% in the right. He was born with better eyesight, but, for reasons doctors still haven’t been able to explain, “it’s been deteriorating since then, and it’s still deteriorating,” he said.

Cashman sees “blurry blobs” without detail. Things are most clear about 3 inches away from his better eye. That’s where he holds his phone, and anything else he wants to read — including printouts of college exams, the letters blown up to a 36-point font.

On the golf course, Cashman needs an aide — called a caddie, spotter or coach — to make sure he’s pulling the right club out of his bag, putting his tee in the right spot and lining up his shots correctly.

He relies on his 69-year-old grandfather to point him in the right direction.

“Without him, you’re just beating balls God knows where,” Cashman said. “I probably couldn’t play a single hole without a spotter.”

Team Ca$hman a family affair

Tyler Cashman was the youngest player in the 2022 International Blind Golf Association’s Vision Cup, where he helped Team North America capture its first title. In March, he won the B2 division at the association’s South African Open, took one day off, then finished second out of 15 entrants at his vision level at the IBGA World Championship.

Earlier this month, after Tyler was second among visually impaired golfers at the U.S. Golf Association’s Adaptive Open in North Carolina, fourth-place finisher Bill Pease declared, “The future of blind golf is right here.”

The IBGA has 400 members, 76 of whom are also registered with the U.S. Blind Golf Association, a nonprofit established in 1953 to grow the game among the visually impaired. Since the inception of the USBGA’s junior golf program in 1992, more than 5,000 people have been introduced to this unique version of the game.

“Tyler has no idea what’s in front of him. He doesn’t know if it’s a par-4, par-5, par-3,” said George Cashman, who grew up in Florham Park and now splits his time between Phoenix and Ortley Beach.

“He relies on me. There’s a real trust factor there. I know his swing so well. I know how to adjust. All the little swing tips he can’t see, I help him with.”

Tyler Cashman looked like any other golfer on the practice green at High Bridge Hills, his home course. He has the standard clubs in his beige golf bag, which is decorated with personalized badges from the U.S. Adaptive Open, World Blind Golf Championships and elite courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pinehurst Resort & Country Club.

Tyler and George Cashman compete in matching bright blue collared polo shirts to which Tyler’s mother, Casey, has added the “Team Ca$hman” logo.

On the green, Tyler counts paces from his ball to the hole. Unlike most golfers, he putts with the flag stick in place. Sometimes George will rattle it to help his grandson locate the cup. The most challenging part of blind golf, Tyler said, is judging any slope on the greens. For his practice round, he birdied the par-5 first hole.

“When things get really bad, I get fired,” his grandfather joked. “Thank God that’s happening fewer and fewer times as his golf game continues to improve and evolve.”

Even with George Cashman sidelined after knee replacement surgery, Tyler and a last-minute replacement caddie finished second in the visually impaired category at the United States Golf Association’s Adaptive Open earlier this month.

The reunited Team Ca$hman is scheduled to compete at the Canadian Open Blind Golf Championships in late August and the USBGA’s 77th National Championship in September.

“I wouldn’t play without him. He’s the reason I play,” Tyler said of his grandfather. “I fire him a lot, but he keeps coming back.”

More: Female golfers triple at NJ high schools as girls claim their spot on the greens

From ‘small adaptation’ to big inspiration

In fourth grade, Casey Cashman thought her son just needed glasses.

Tyler had kept his declining vision a secret, memorizing the eye chart the school nurse used. But after she switched to a new chart, Tyler got nearly every letter wrong.

He doesn’t have a diagnosis, but doctors believe his vision loss is genetic.

Cashman played baseball with sighted kids until eighth grade, when his doctor decided it wasn’t safe anymore. Undaunted, Cashman switched to the New Jersey Titans beep baseball team, a squad of visually impaired players who play a modified version of the national pastime. He was the offensive Rookie of the Year at the 2019 National Beep Baseball Association World Series in Oklahoma, with a .650 batting average. Two years later, Cashman hit .581 and was named to the World Series offensive all-star team.

Cashman also followed his grandfather’s passion for golf onto the greens, “because the ball doesn’t move and there’s no contact, so they couldn’t stop me.” He converted his baseball swing at the since-closed Golf Range in Branchburg. Cashman tried out for the Voorhees High School golf team and made junior varsity as a freshman with Voorhees English teacher Mike Crane, a beginner golfer, as his volunteer caddie.

“His love for the game overcame the frustrations,” said Carmen Cook, a retired Voorhees physical education teacher and coach. “One of the first times he was out on the course with me, I said, ‘Hey, great shot. Did you see where that went?’ He said, ‘I have no idea.’ He really lost vision of the flight once it took off.”

Cashman moved up to varsity as a sophomore and junior. In his senior year, he was one of Voorhees’ top three players and a co-captain on a team that went 15-3.

“At first, I didn’t like how (my vision) was so out in the open,” Cashman said. “But it was a good thing that it was so obvious for other people. … I started to look at (the caddie) as a small adaptation I had to deal with so I could play on the same level.”

Blindfolded batters, buzzing bases: NJ beep baseball team opens sport to the legally blind

Cashman, who is studying marketing, hopes his future career will raise awareness of visually impaired people. He also plans to continue raising money for the U.S. Pain Foundation, the largest nonprofit for individuals living with chronic pain, as his mother does.

When Tyler was in seventh grade, the Cashmans launched Pediatric Pain Warriors for kids and families. Since then, they have raised $250,000, hosting three weeklong summer camps and family retreats at Disney World, Great Wolf Lodge Water Park, and Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, as well as a virtual retreat during the COVID lockdown.

A rising junior at the University of Richmond, Cashman gets audio versions of most textbooks, and uses iPad apps that can scan and verbalize print pages. He also uses Fusion, a computer program that both enlarges and reads text.

Cashman has participated in two clinical trials to try to slow his deteriorating vision: one for a new medication and another, in Cancun, in which his stem cells were removed and then reinjected. Neither has reversed his condition, though the interventions could have slowed his decline.

“He won’t let the vision define him,” said Pease, a former University of Virginia professor who is also legally blind. “That’s not who he is. He won’t make excuses. He’s a real role model at 20 years old. I look up to him. … He’s got this disease and it’s not curable, but he just keeps going. He doesn’t keep going just for himself. He’s trying to help others. He’s already done more for others than most of us on this Earth.”

Jane Havsy is a storyteller for the Daily Record and, part of the USA TODAY Network. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis, subscribe today.

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