Blindness Is No Obstacle for Rutgers Golfer
Tony Jiang who lost his eyesight as a toddler has been playing golf since age 5
“Other people may have other issues and play really good golf. So, I can’t say, ‘Oh, because of my eye I can’t (be successful).”– Tony Jiang
At first sight, Tony Jiang is a typical accomplished college golfer. He is a two-time Preseason Big Ten Conference selection pick. He has played in 27 tournaments and 79 rounds for Rutgers. Golf has been part of who he is since age 5.
What makes Jiang unique is that he’s done this all while being legally blind – a condition he has had to deal with for the past 20 years, since he tripped at home and smacked the corner of the glass table when he was a toddler in China.
“I can’t complain much,” said Jiang, who lost sight in his right eye in the accident. “I feel like every person is not perfect. This just happened to be my eye."
Time has developed perspective for Jiang.
“Other people may have other issues and play really good golf,” he said. “So, I can’t say, ‘Oh, because of my eye I can’t (be successful).”
Jiang holds his own against other top college golfers even though there are times on the golf course when he can’t see much of anything.
Last spring his 18-hole average was 73.15, basically just one stroke more than was expected to complete the course. That was good enough to be selected to the Division I Northeast All-Region team. His lowest score is 66, comparable to some of the top college golfers.
To the 21-year-old, his accomplishments are not that shocking. But to those who know him, they still are amazed at what he can do on the course.
“One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,’’ sophomore teammate Jack Doherty said, an international student from Ireland. “We’ve joked where I try and hit the ball with one eye closed. I’ve tried and I can’t make contact with the ball. I don’t know how he does it. His hand-eye coordination is amazing. When the sky is a little hazy, he’s basically blind in both eyes. He can crush the ball down the fairway and have no idea where it goes. It’s unbelievable."
“It’s pretty cool how he overcame his handicap,’’ Doherty added. “It shows handicaps really don’t make a difference. You can still achieve at a very high level if you really put your mind to it.’’
Some days Jiang just can’t see the ball as well as other days. He can drive a ball 300 yards but isn’t always able to follow its flight.
“There are days he can’t see much at all,’’ Rutgers golf coach Rob Shutte said. “He’ll say, ‘Where’d it go? Where’d it go?’ He has difficulty with depth perception and would lose confidence when he couldn’t see the ball. He’d be kind of wandering around in the rough and wouldn’t ask competitors, ‘Hey, can you help keep an eye on my ball?’ I think he was a little embarrassed about it, but he has matured by kind of owning it.’’
Raised in the city of Shenzhen, Jiang began walking golf courses at age 2 with his father. At age 8 he had his own golf coach. The family had moved to Japan, but it wasn’t until his family moved to Florida that he began to feel passionate about the game.
After enrolling in a golf academy in Lake Mary, Florida, he transferred to Sarasota Christian for his last three years of high school. Two years ago, his parents and younger brother moved back to Japan.
“My parents kind of made me play golf,’’ Jiang said. "At the academy I started to feel I was playing for myself instead of playing for my parents.’’
This fall season runs until Oct. 28. Win or lose, under par or over, who Jiang is will remain consistent.
“He doesn’t complain about anything,” Shutte said. “He’s been away from his parents many times in his life and has been able to be very independent. He has a soft heart for people. I have three little kids and he’s always genuinely asking about them and will show up with chocolates from different countries.”
Majoring in economics and labor studies, Jiang plans on joining PGA Tour China after graduation. Friends of his are already on the tour and doing well, and his aspirations are to reach the status of Asian golf stars like Liang Wenchong and Zhang Lianwei.
Jiang’s work ethic should go a long way in achieving that goal.
Doc MacArthur, his high school coach, offered an example of Jiang’s perseverance. “I remember one outing he had a bad round. We were getting ready to go out for dinner and he said, ‘No, I’m going to the range and hit balls.’ That’s Tony Jiang right there,’’ he said. “He’s never satisfied. He’s willing to do the work, go the extra mile. That’s something a coach can’t give someone. I can give him the how-to and all, but as I told the Rutgers coach when he recruited him, “He’ll go out there and gut it out and give you a 72 on a broken leg.’’’