Dennis Walters will remember a recent Monday night for the rest of his life.
The former Neptune High School player and four others were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.
Despite suffering paralysis in a golf cart accident, Walters has emerged as golf’s greatest globetrotter, traveling some three million miles to perform in 3,000 appearances–some with Tiger Woods.
“Can you believe I’m in the World Golf Hall of Fame before Tiger Woods?” Walters said with a smile.
Walters was a promising amateur at the age of 24 when he was paralyzed from the waist down. He was left unable to compete. Not even paralysis could keep Walters off his beloved links as he found a way to swing from a swivel seat on the back of a cart. Driven to stay in the game, he became one of the sport’s most popular exhibitionists.
In the late 1960s, Walters was a promising 18-year-old making serious noise on the New Jersey Amateur circuit. He won the New Jersey Junior Championship, the Caddie Championship and the Public Links Junior Championship, a trifecta no amateur had completed in the Garden State.
He attended North Texas State on a golf scholarship and led the school to four straight Missouri Valley Conference titles, captaining the club during each season.
Back home in New Jersey in July of 1974, Walters went to the Roxiticus Golf Club in Mendham to visit his friend, former major league baseball pitcher Ralph Terry. Going on a steep downhill path in a three-wheeler cart, Walters lost control and crashed the vehicle. When he went to get up, he couldn’t. After several weeks in hospitals, the verdict was final: he would never walk again.
During his 12-minute induction speech, Walters said of his previous 45 years, “I have gone from the depths of despair to golf’s ultimate destination.”
Walters told the Golf Channel after the accident, “I was so bewildered and so down and so low. I didn’t know what to do. I came home to my mom and dad on the weekends and I was sitting there in 1975 watching the Bing Crosby Tournament. A lot of these guys I played with in college were playing in it.”
Enter Walters’ father.
“So,” young Walters told the Golf Channel, “I’m crying my eyes out and dad says, ‘Let’s go hit some golf balls.’ “
From the first ball he hit into a net in his parents’ house, Walters knew he had to find a way to continue playing the game he loved. The New Jersey and Florida communities–Walters resides in the East Coast resort town of Jupiter, Fl.–rallied around the former Scarlet Flier, raising money for specialized equipment, including the seat. A year later, he paid his friends back with some shows of how well he could still hit the ball.
Suddenly, Walters found a new path in golf. He became the lone paralyzed trick shot artist the game had ever seen.
Walters does roughly 90 shows per year. In 2008, The PGA of America presented him with its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award. In 2018, the USGA gave Walters its highest honor, the Bob Jones Award.
“I can’t walk,” Walters said during the reent ceremony, “but when I got that call I felt like I could fly.”
Walters entered the stage at the ceremony in his wheelchair and was helped into a pair of walking canes.
“To me,” Walters said, “a real dream is having a positive thought in your head and in your heart and doing whatever it takes to make that dream come true. If you have a dream and it doesn’t work out, never stop dreaming. Get a new dream!”
Earlier this year, Walters was inducted into the New Jersey State Golf Association Hall of Fame
Note: Worldgolfhalloffame.org and the Associated Press also contributed to this report.