Hawaiian junior golfer overcomes vision loss to compete in USGA Adaptive Open

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Amanda Cunha first noticed something was wrong with her vision just over twelve months ago, but she had no idea the diagnosis would change her life forever.

“I was driving to school and I was like ‘huh, something’s wrong with my vision’, I didn’t know what it was for a good month or so. After several visits to the doctors, we got found out that it was permanent vision loss and would be gradual,” Cunha told KHON2’s Alan Hoshida during a practice session.

Cunha was diagnosed with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, a lifelong condition that would gradually deteriorate her eyesight over time. She went from fully sighted to legally blind within a year. It’s a life-changing diagnosis for anyone, especially a teenager who, on the outside, may not appear to be visually impaired.

“There’s no visual indicator that I’m impaired or anything like that, so sometimes I have my cane. My white cane. Right now I’m at a stage in my life where I don’t don’t trust it or need it, but sometimes I need to use it to communicate that there is a visually impaired person.

The 18-year-old had to relearn basic everyday functions, including golf, a sport she has played most of her life. She would need to add a member to her team in an otherwise isolating game. His father, Larry, became his caddy and, more importantly, his eyes on the golf course.

“I have to trust he knows I’m lined up in the right place or I have to trust he tells me the yardage I need and makes sure it’s enough club. All of that combined is what makes us a great team,” Cunha explained. “Being able to play golf with a visual impairment was the biggest challenge at first because I couldn’t see the green. I couldn’t see the flag from a distance. I was still trying to look for him even though I knew he wasn’t there. After a lot of hard work, continuing to train and trying to regain muscle memory was super awesome.

Amanda regained her swing and her dreams of playing college golf. She is expected to join the groundbreaking Adaptive Golf Program at the University of Arizona in the fall. The only one of its kind in the country.

This week she will compete in the inaugural USGA Adaptive Open at the iconic Pinehurst Country Club. The Le Jardin graduate is one of eighteen women in the field. It begins its 1st round at 03:12 HT.

“I’m very excited to inspire young and old who may not have the confidence to play the sport they truly love. I can’t thank the USGA enough for hosting this event, as adaptive golf is not part of the Paralympics at this time, so this is a huge step forward to bring it into the Paralympics.

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