By Miguelangelo Hernandez | Photos courtesy of Augusta University
Augusta University golfer, Dawson Booth, overcomes vision impairment to play at the collegiate level
Ask anyone who has picked up a golf club, and they will more than likely admit the sport is hard.
Now imagine falling in love with golf, playing it every day trying to hone your craft, but there is one giant obstacle: You only have one good eye.
Meet Dawson Booth.
Booth is a junior in the classroom and a sophomore on Augusta University’s men’s golf team. During the fall 2021 season, he played in four tournaments, including once as an individual in the 2021 Badger Invitational, where he finished tied for 39th.
Getting to this point in his life has tested his patience and faith, but has pushed him to achieve what most thought would be impossible — competing in Division I golf.
The Challenge Ahead
Booth was three years old when he was diagnosed with uveitis, a form of eye inflammation that affects the middle layer of tissue in the eye wall. For Booth, this meant his immune system was hyperactive and was attacking his right eye.
“I was put on heavy medication when I was young, had cataract surgery when I was five, and then through all the treatment, I was diagnosed with glaucoma when I was 12. That was basically a side effect from all the eye drops and treatment,” he said.
“That’s when my vision spiraled out of control and caused me to go blind when I was a junior in high school. I had six surgeries that year and none of them helped enough. My last surgery, the surface of my eye was not capable of withstanding the surgery they were giving me and it busted mid-surgery and they had to sew it back together.
“It’s a miracle I can see light out of that eye now because the doctors didn’t think I was going be able to see after that because of the trauma that occurred. I can see light and I can see a little bit of peripheral vision, but other than that, I see all just out of my left eye.”
Booth grew up in a Christian household, attending First Baptist Church of Augusta with his parents. He viewed the obstacle as God’s way of challenging him to fulfill what he has in store for his life.
“On the golf course, being able to show people what faith in God has done for me and what God’s done through me means a lot, because it truly is a gift from Him that I’m able to do what I do.”
Finally Getting His Chance
Booth had played both baseball and golf growing up, but the sports overlapped at Evans High School, so he chose golf.
“I was better at golf so I decided to stick with it throughout high school,” he said. “I played all four years, and we made it to the state championship each year in Class 6A. It was a lot of fun.”
Booth once asked a mentor how he could use golf as a way to better follow Christ.
“That person said to me, ‘You have to be willing to give everything to Him, even if that isn’t playing golf.’”
He really wanted to play collegiate golf, but the opportunity never presented itself, so he went to the University of Georgia.
“I wasn’t sure I could give up golf like that, but I got accepted to Georgia and that’s when my Christian walk grew. I got to college, found a good group of guys that helped me become the man I am now. COVID-19 prompted us to move back around March. I was on a mission trip in Jamaica, which was during our spring break trip, and then they sent us home. That’s when I started picking up golf again, playing at our home club.
“I had only played one round during my freshman year, but I got to play with a few of the pros at our club, and I played pretty good. But it felt like God was presenting that opportunity back to me in a different way.”
The “pros” Booth played with that day were current Professional Golfers Association Tour pros Luke List and Henrik Norlander — the latter being a member of the 2010 and 2011 Augusta University Men’s National Championship Golf teams — and Scott Parel, an Augusta resident who is a member on the PGA Tour Champions circuit. All three individually called men’s golf coach Jack O’Keefe and suggested he contact Booth.
“They all said he could help our team, and everyone that knows him had nothing but high praises for Dawson,” said O’Keefe, who is currently in his ninth year as head coach. “He has worked hard and done the right thing. He still needs some experience, but he’s just a hard worker, a great teammate and a positive young man.”
Working Toward a Goal
Booth said that growing up, he had thought about becoming an eye doctor because of his condition, but after once asking a resident physician what grade she would be in if she was still counting grades, she responded “about 22nd grade” — and Booth wasn’t sure whether he could be in school that long.
Then, when Booth got to UGA as a mechanical engineering major, he was in a psychology class studying the eyes and the nervous system. That got him thinking about becoming an eye doctor again.
He said he finally understood God’s plan for him when he was on a mission trip in Jamaica and spent time at an infirmary where patients went when there was no one left to care for them. He saw a guy sitting by himself with a radio pressed against his face, so he decided to go talk with him.
“I sat down next to him and I could tell he couldn’t see where I was, so I asked him, ‘Are you blind?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I’ve got two torn corneas and I’ve been like this for five years and that’s why I’m here in this infirmary,’” Booth said.
“He was a 50-year-old gentleman who said the treatment was too expensive to get treated. It would have been easy if he had just had the money. I felt terrible — nothing like that should ever happen. He was a taxi driver for 30 years and had gotten in a car wreck where the windshield shattered into his eyes. I think we talked for about an hour just sharing stories and talking to him about what he’s gone through and then I shared with him what I’ve been through.
“At that point, I was like, man, I really think that I want to help people like him. That was the turning point for me. I got home and changed my major even before I came to AU.”
O’Keefe said Booth has been an inspiration to the team and hopes his presence helps them push through struggles when they witness how hard he works to overcome his vision impairment.
“I think it makes the guys on the team realize that, wow, he’s got a tiny bit of a disability and he doesn’t make any excuses,” he said. “I think that’s been the brightest spot for the guys on the team is that they see this guy working hard and persevering and hopefully that’s carried over and helped some of these other guys, too.”
Booth said pursuing a degree in science is tough, and being on the golf team makes it a little bit harder to balance priorities. But he said the experience, although hard, has been fulfilling.
He said the gradual regression of his vision has allowed him to adapt to using his left eye better. He’s had to rely on and get more oriented with the rest of his senses once his sight was lost. On the golf course, he uses a rangefinder to help with his depth perception, which has helped him to average 75.8 per round this season — including a season-best round of 69.
“If I’m putting a straw in a drink, I always miss the hole to put the straw in, but it’s like on a broader scale on the golf course,” he said.
Growing up his mother would be the one to take him to his eye appointments. During those almost weekly visits, he befriended his nurses and doctors, who watched him grow from not being able to get his feet to touch the ground while sitting in the chair to now being bigger than the chair.
Booth said their support, along with his family’s, has been incredible no matter the circumstances. Even now as he takes himself to his own appointments, he says his family is behind him “no matter what.”
In November he shadowed his pediatric ophthalmologist during a surgery and got a behind-the-scenes experience. Booth said he thought he’d be behind a screen to observe the surgery, but he was up close with the patient.
“That was another thing that made me think this is definitely what I want to do when I get older,” he said. “I would never be here today without the support of my mom and dad and all the people around me that helped me grow up into who I am. The love and support they give me, you can’t find it anywhere else, and it’s been really cool for them and for me.”
Appears in the April 2022 issue of Augusta Magazine.