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Manuel De Los Santos on film

By Matt Cooper Last updated: 16th December 2010

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Manuel De Los Santos in action at St Andrews.

Manuel De Los Santos in action at St Andrews.

At the 2009 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship golf fans were introduced to a remarkable - and unusual - golfer.

In truth, at that particular event, golf fans often find themselves stunned by unusual golfers, but they tend to be the unusually bad kind: ex-sportsmen with dodgy swings, celebrities with dodgy jokes and rich businessmen with dodgy handicaps.

The 2009 event witnessed something unusually inspirational however: the first outing in Britain, and on the European Tour, of Manuel De Los Santos.

On the first morning at Kingsbarns, one of the three courses used for the event, the veteran Times golf writer John Hopkins came in from the course, shaking his head and smiling in wonder at what he had just seen.

He went on to write these words: "At Kingsbarns golf course yesterday morning, I saw one of the most remarkable sights I have come across in 50 years of playing and watching the sport. My eyes widened in admiration at seeing Manuel De Los Santos, 25, a one-legged man who plays without the help of an artificial limb, boom 300-yard drives from a tee and chip with the deftness of Severiano Ballesteros."

So astonished was Hopkins that I felt compelled to go and see De Los Santos for myself and it was impossible to disagree - his balance and strength was extraordinary.

The De Los Santos story, it soon emerged, was a fantastical one.

Originally from the Dominican Republic, he was a promising basketball player with hopes of making the grade as a professional in America but, aged eighteen, he was struck by a car whilst on his motorbike and woke from a coma to discover his one leg had been amputated above the knee.

He later moved to Paris with his wife Elena and admits that he was finding life hard to come to terms with - until one night he watched 'The Legend of Bagger Vance', a film about a golfer beating the odds.

Inspired he took himself to the driving range next day, discarded his prosthetic limb and smashed balls with a 7-iron.

The range owners were so impressed they told him to hit as many balls as he wished; they didn't expect him to hit two thousand a day, day after day, month after month until he became a three-handicapper.

Professional Gavin Dear played alongside De Los Santos in the Dunhill event and said: "I am not sure about technique; I prefer to watch the ball flight. All I can say is that Manuel is in control of all aspects of his game. His ball flight says he is a good golfer.

"He strikes it great, he putts well. Sometimes you see guys who don't rotate on the backswing, he rotates.

"I had heard he was a quality golfer and now I have played with him I can see that he definitely is. I think he may be the best three-handicapper I have ever seen."

De Los Santos himself was loving every minute. "I am so happy to be here in Scotland," he said. "I am very happy when people come to look at me. I can feel their love for golf, the respect they have for the game."

After he completed a four-over-par round of 76 his partner Richard Bland said simply: "He is an inspiration."

Bland was not alone in being stirred by the tale - Lee Westwood said the same thing and watching film-maker Peter Montgomery was moved to make a short documentary.

Golf fans can now watch the film on YouTube, learning a bit more about De Los Santos' life and his love for the game that has transformed his life.

  • To view the film click here.

    Matt Cooper



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