Meet Jarrad Kogos the “Write” Way…

This edition of Golf Writer Andy Reistetter’s exclusive “Meet Golfers the Write Way” series features someone you may not have heard of (yet) but surely will someday soon. Jarrad Kogos is a golfer unlike any you have met. Playing golf with him is a fun and inspiring experience. As a person he would like to “HUG” you and in so doing bring a lot of folks like himself to the game of golf. If you have lost perspective in life or on the golf course come along and play a round with Jarrad. One of the most interesting and passionate golfer and person you will ever meet.

Jarrad Kogos is at home in the middle of the fairway.

Jarrad Kogos is at home in the middle of the fairway.

I first met Jarrad as he walked along the practice range at TPC Sawgrass. It was last fall during the Nationwide Tour’s Winn Dixie Jacksonville Open on Dye’s Valley Course.

At the same time we met James Bond, an amputee that runs “Amputee Talk Shop”. Bond, like the one in the movies had a high tech remote gismo. This one sets the knee bend angle on his titanium Computer-Leg. That’s “C-Leg” for short. He let me tap his artificial leg and play a little with the remote. James Bond is a golf nut and it seems like an advantage to a golfer to have your right knee angle consistent throughout the backswing.

Jarrad was a little different but not much different. With Bond you could see what was that was different with him. With Jarrad, to be able to see what is different you have to take some time, think about it and get to know him a little.

Two more players in red and green and we were a fruit salad foursome for sure!

Two more players in red and green and we were a fruit salad foursome for sure!

I learned a little of Jarrad’s story during that October day. At age 12 Asperger’s appeared in his life and he became a high functioning autistic young man. After seeing Tiger Woods win THE PLAYERS in 2001 he tried out for the local Fletcher High School golf team. His game improved quickly from shooting an 87 for nine holes to a 47. As his golf scores went down so did his grades at school.

The reason his grades went down wasn’t because he was playing more golf or goofing off at the golf course. It wasn’t something his parents Colleen and Donald could coach him through or simply help their child overcome. Severe headaches, eyes that hurt and bad hiccups were symptoms of what an MRI confirmed. It was a malignant brain tumor that required surgery, radiation and chemotherapy at age 17.

“Life, it happens,” is what Jarrad said to me when we got together to play golf on a beautiful day in March when “spring has sprung” in Northeast Florida.

I learned to never give a man with his name on his bag strokes, just H.U.G. him...Help Us Golf...

I learned to never give a man with his name on his bag strokes, just H.U.G. him…Help Us Golf…

“How do you pronounce your last name,” I asked.

“Kogos, like bogus,” he responded. He then told me I looked like a lemon in my yellow shirt. He was in orange and commented, “that all we need is two more players wearing red and green and we will be a fruit salad.”

I really didn’t know what to expect playing with an autistic player and someone who survived a brain tumor.

He certainly isn’t bogus I thought and laughed along with him. He is a smart and funny 24-year old nice guy.

I did learn that his balance and eyesight were impaired and that is where I could help him during the round. I drove the cart and he instructed me to drive it right up onto the tee. Level ground is his friend and I thought “oh my gosh this is Dye’s Valley, the land of up and down diabolical lies, how will we ever manage?”

Scottish Bagpiper Bill Sloan played a little for us at TPC Sawgrass... maybe the knickers aren't too far out of place!

Scottish Bagpiper Bill Sloan played a little for us at TPC Sawgrass… maybe the knickers aren’t too far out of place!

When Jarrad looks to the green he sees a flag and a half. Any help with setup and direction would be appreciated especially lining up putts on the green. His peripheral vision is limited and that is why he sometimes jumps when people come towards him. He is startled when he doesn’t see them coming.

After he sliced his drive off to the right on the first tee he told me “I am a magician and made the ball disappear.”

In reality he swings the golf club like Ben Hogan. Others have made that comment to him and his response is “they call Hogan the Hawk and Jarrad the Squawk.” He does talk a lot but like Lee Trevino he is quite entertaining.

When we reached the green he told me to drive the cart right onto the fringe so he could get out without losing his balance. I was use to driving on fairways and not tees and greens so it took me most of the round to get comfortable doing so. The ground was dry and firm so there were no marks left behind but still it was an awkward feeling.

Other than driving the cart everywhere playing with Jarrad was not awkward at all. The only other accommodations were that I teed up his ball for him and checked his alignment like the caddies do on the LPGA tour. Though I would stay in position and watch his swing. With quick hands at impact most of his drives were straight and carried nearly 200 yards.

Jarrad is one of the friendliest and most golf knowledgeable people you will meet hanging around TPC Sawgrass!

Jarrad is one of the friendliest and most golf knowledgeable people you will meet hanging around TPC Sawgrass!

It took him three years to learn to walk again after the surgery and leave his wheelchair behind. Off course he frequently utilizes a walker to minimize the number of times he loses his balance to avoid falls.

I grabbed his belt from behind as he played a nice recovery shot near the lake on the 6th fairway. I didn’t want to see if he could swim. He made a 15-footer on No. 5 and a 12-footer on No. 7 with birds chirping during his putting. Hitting driver off the deck on the par- 5 8thhole, he made solid contact. He nearly parred the difficult par-4 9th hole.

This kid has got game. Ever since he got out of the wheelchair, his aspiration is to become a PGA Professional. He recently took the first step of that journey by taking his PAT with Jeff Hopkins at Hidden Hills.

Jarrad wants to help grow the game of golf especially to folks like himself. In reality as the president of the nonprofit HUG- “Help Us Golf” he is already doing that. Jarrad is a coach for the Special Olympics and also supports The First Tee of Duval County.

When asked what it is like to be Jarrad Kogos he can’t describe it but adamantly says “I have Asperger’s, but Asperger’s does not have me.”

For a guy that can barely stand at times, he stands out… simple, smart, unique.

In most regards, Jarrad is just another golfer, someone who loves the game and the challenge. Maybe what is not normal is how we look at him and others when they want to come out and play golf? We think of scores and competition instead of friends, family and fun as the PGA of America is promoting this year with Golf 2.0.

With Jarrad at the October 2012 First Tee 'Taste of Golf.'

With Jarrad at the October 2012 First Tee ‘Taste of Golf.’

As with Bond, Jarrad really isn’t any different than you and me. Sure there are some physical differences beyond the usual height and weight ones. Truly when it comes to the important things like heart, desire, and simply being alive, living fully in the moment we can all be like Mr. Bond  and Jarrad.

This was one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I have ever experienced. Playing golf and spending time with Jarrad was fun and inspiring. I hope to tee it up again with him soon. Maybe Mr. Bond can join us but I am not giving him any strokes with that C-Leg.


Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Spotter, Research and Broadcast Assistant for The Golf Channel, NBC and CBS Sports. He spends time on all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.

Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and the home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.

A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it.

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