By Tyler Urke in Sports
Landon Joy pulls out his white Nike golf ball, places it on a tee poked into the green grass of the Broadmoor Golf Course and takes a few practice swings. Seconds later, the ball sails down the right side of the fairway.
But to him, it has disappeared entirely.
“I can tell by the feel if it’s gonna fade or draw,” Landon said while playing a practice round May 8. “Sometimes I’ll hit it and it’s like, ‘I don’t know where that’s going.’”
Landon, 18, has eye disorders called cone/rod dystrophy and nystagmus, and is partially color blind. Despite his eye condition, Landon was named 2A Greater St. Helens League First Team All-League and accepted a scholarship offer to Corban University, a private Christian college in Salem, Oregon, for this fall. He’s a talented golfer at Hudson’s Bay High School, a former Running Start student at Clark and a competitor in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association State Tournament May 27-28.
To the surprise of his doctors, Landon’s vision hasn’t worsened since he was a child. In fact, it has gotten better. As a boy, Landon had 20/100 vision and now has uncorrected 20/80 and corrected 20/60 vision. 20/100 vision means you must be as close as 20 feet to see what a person with normal vision can see at 100 feet.
Dystrophy means that his vision is supposed to deteriorate over time. The keywords are “supposed to.”
“The docs keep saying, ‘Keep doing whatever you’re doing because it’s not textbook,’” Landon’s father Greg Joy said.
For a person with an eye condition, golf is one of the most difficult sports to play due to the distance. Cone/rod dystrophy, which he was diagnosed with at 1, causes vision impairment due to the loss of cone and rod cells. Nystagmus, otherwise known as “dancing eyes,” is a condition of involuntary eye movement that can cause limited vision, according to the American Optometric Association.
“It’s a stationary white ball on a green surface,” Greg said. “That’s high contrast. Once it leaves, it’s gone and he doesn’t know exactly where it went.”
Greg caddies for Landon whenever he can and tells him where the ball goes.
In an Oregon tournament where Landon wasn’t allowed a caddy or help from his parents, Greg said he was stressed. “He’d be walking on the right side of the fairway looking for a ball and you clearly know it’s on the left.”
Growing up, Landon said he was equally skilled at golf and soccer. That changed when he had a good freshman year of golf at Hudson’s Bay and decided to pursue it full time.
Paul Pickerell, head coach at Corban at the time, recognized Landon’s commitment to golf his junior season at Hudson’s Bay. Pickerell offered Landon an $18,000 a year scholarship that he accepted.
To Pickerell, Landon’s eye condition was “never a concern.”
Four of his mother’s male cousins were diagnosed with a more severe version of cone/rod dystrophy and all were legally blind.
“When they tested him when he was younger I figured he was on the road to becoming legally blind,” said his mother, ReNai Joy. “If somebody had said ‘He’ll play college golf’ I wouldn’t have believed them. I didn’t think that was in the cards for Landon but when he made the choice to focus on golf that was the tipping point.”
Landon has had annual checkups at Oregon Health and Science University’s Casey Eye Institute since he was 14 where “they do a bunch of crazy tests,” according to Greg.
“I feel like I get colors mixed up and some colors don’t show up as bright during the day,” Landon said. “For example, my car is red and sometimes I can say, ‘that’s red’ and sometimes from a distance it looks black.”
However, what red is to Landon might be different than the traditional definition. The lights on a scoreboard in a gym are black to him. Landon inherited his sister’s purple room when she moved out but said he doesn’t mind since it’s blue to him.
Corban is set to host the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Golf National Championship in 2018-19 and Landon said he hopes to play in it.
He was the only Hudson’s Bay men’s golfer to qualify for the state tournament after finishing sixth in districts.
Landon’s game is long, averaging around 285-300 yards per drive. He said he hopes that will be the difference at state.
“My ultimate goal is top 10 and then I’ll work down from there,” Landon said.
In high school tournaments, Landon is allowed to use a monocular, a small refracting telescope used to magnify distant objects. In college he’ll upgrade to a rangefinder, but Landon said he’s learned to play without one.
“Colleges are very accommodating,” Pickerell said. “He has the consistent scoring, potential and drive to do well.”
Pickerell said he talked with Landon about things he needed to get better at, such as his short game. According to Pickerell, the areas he suggested were ones Landon was already working on.
Debbie Friede, Landon’s coach at Hudson’s Bay his freshman and sophomore years, helped Landon get a ruling from WIAA to be able to use his monocular. Friede played six years on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour and then worked with TaylorMade Golf and Nike before moving to Portland. She currently works at Royal Oaks Country Club where she is the Membership and Marketing Director.
Friede said Landon was among the first to enter the Royal Oaks Caddy Program and was one of the top caddies. The program helps young golfers develop an understanding of the game while earning summer money.
“He was really great at mentoring the other kids and you can see that it’s a passion of his to help others,” Friede said.
Landon was one of 12 senior boys in the Mr. Hudson’s Bay Pageant this year. Mr. Hudson’s Bay is a program started in 1994 as a part of the Kids Making Miracles Foundation through Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. The 12 contestants from Hudson’s Bay raise money for Doernbecher, a part of OHSU, for six months and the senior who raises the most money earns the title of Mr. Hudson’s Bay.
Landon finished second and raised over $7,000. He said part of the reason he participated was because he wanted to give back to OHSU for the support it has given him.
“Golf is a Tool”
The Joy family has always supported Landon’s dreams. Greg said his grandfather went blind the last few years of his life and he told Landon, “I’m giving up my vision so you can get yours back.”
They attend New Heights Church in Vancouver and when Greg attempted to explain why Landon’s vision hadn’t deteriorated, all he could do was point upward.
“Our faith has sustained us,” Greg said. “Anytime you face the unknown, you lose sleep. For this season of his life he’s been blessed with the gift that it’s stopped and it really shouldn’t be.”
Greg remembers golfing with his school buddies and Landon tagging along with his plastic club. From there Landon progressed to a golf mat, a golf range and eventually a golf course.
Landon entered his first tournament at age 6 through an organization called U.S. Kid’s Golf. The company started in January 1997, a month after Landon was born, and Greg said they were very kid-friendly.
His parents said they never pressured him into playing golf and that it was the sport that he really enjoyed. “I think we probably just gave him those opportunities,” ReNai said. “He took them and enjoyed them.”
Greg and Landon say, “Golf is a tool,” when describing why they play the game because they’ve met so many amazing people and built relationships.
Golf works well in the Joy family as both Greg and ReNai teach in the Vancouver School District and have summers off. Greg is a seventh grade teacher at Discovery Middle School and ReNai teaches kindergarten at Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School.
“Everywhere we go, the golf clubs are in the car,” Renai said.
“Never know when you’re going to find a course!” Greg said with a laugh.