Once a week at the Prince Rupert Golf Club, 19-year-old Drew Fudger meets with a group of keen Special Olympics athletes to give them pointers on how to play the game.
Lessons usually begin at the driving range, where a small group of keen students are practicing their swings under Fudger’s watchful eye. Each of them has their own way of making contact with the ball, none of them are textbook.
However, Fudger sits back and lets the athletes figure out the process for themselves. After teaching the program for five weeks, he has learned that a patient, hands-off approach, is the most effective way to facilitate the growth of these athletes.
“You have to just let them figure it out,” he said. “I’ll try to help and tweak a few things here and there, but they just have to swing it and whatever works for them, works for them.”
Helping Special Olympics athletes learn the game of golf is much different to the path Fudger was on when he first started to play sports. His first passion was hockey, a game he was introduced to when he was three years old.
“It was a family thing,” Fudger said. “Most of my family plays hockey so that’s what I naturally started doing.”
He was an attacking forward with a nose for the puck and a knack for scoring goals. He progressed through Prince Rupert’s minor hockey ranks and in 2016, he moved to Fort St. John to play for the Huskies, the city’s minor league squad.
Fudger described his short stint in the juniors as a helpful learning experience, saying that the time he spent living with a host family prepared him for the challenges he would face when he moved away to school.
“I really valued getting to do things on my own,” he said.
After playing a year of junior hockey, Fudger enrolled in the human kinetics program at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia, with the goal of becoming a physical therapist.
“Part of that process is that I have to work with special needs individuals in my community,” he said.
Fudger saw an opportunity to meet those requirements while building on another long-term passion he had recently begun to take more seriously.
Like hockey, golf was a game that Fudger had spent a lot of time around as a child, as both his father and close friends would play. He recalled the first time he played as a struggle, with lots of balls ending up either in the bushes or the water.
“I could always hit the ball fine,” he said. “It was just figuring out how to keep it straight, I guess.”
Over time, Fudger became more serious about the game, working to improve his weakness at the tee box and shore up his strengths with the irons.
“I guess I’m just competitive by nature and I just wanted to get better at it,” he said. “I wouldn’t even say I’m quite there yet.”
He then began to work at Prince Rupert’s golf club teaching Special Olympics athletes.
“They already have soccer and swimming and basketball, but golf gives them a different discipline and new skill set to learn,” Fudger said.
Fudger said the athletes have been responding well to the lessons, and they are gradually improving, even if their technique is not picture perfect. In addition to the driving range, the group has been spending time around the practice greens, learning the finer points of putting and chipping.
They have also had the opportunity to play a single hole of golf out on the course, something Fudger said allows the players to get practical experience applying what they have been practising.
“I’ve found that they’ve been super excited about it,” he said.
Overall, Fudger said the journey of going from a hockey player to student and golf instructor has been rewarding, and it’s been a pleasure watching his new students grow.
“Just to see them improve over time is amazing,” he said.