SALT LAKE CITY — He looked like your typical high school golfer, all bundled up in the cold and wet conditions at the 3A golf tournament last week at Mountain Dell Golf Course.
After hitting his drive to the par-3 No. 9 hole onto the green, 20 feet short of the hole, Kody Conover hunched over his putt and stroked his putt toward the cup, leaving it a foot short. He carefully marked the ball and when it was his turn, calmly stroked it in for the par.
Only afterward did you notice Kody was a little different. After punching the air in celebration, he sprinted across the green to his bag before enthusiastically pushing his four-wheeled golf cart up the hill behind the green.
You see, Kody is a little different from most golfers and his story is one of determination, passion and relationships.
Kody has Down syndrome. It’s a condition that affects as many as a half million people in the United States, presenting physical and mental challenges in their everyday lives. Yet it doesn’t keep Kody Conover from playing golf, something he does very well.
Kody wasn’t the best player at Mountain Dell last week, about in the middle of the pack of the 105 golfers who competed. His first-day 85 was a typical score for him but he has shot in the 70s on four occasions in practice rounds.
“He loves it,’’ says his mother, Kitty. “He goes to bed thinking about golf and wakes up thinking about golf. It’s been really good for him because it teaches him determination. Like today in the miserable weather a lot of kids would give up. But he just kept on going.’’
Kody has been enrolled in public schools since the second grade and takes regular classes except for a reading class. He has played on the Union High golf team for four years and will graduate with his class at the end of the year.
Golf is his passion and something Kody is more than happy to talk about.
He answers questions in short bursts, always with a smile on his face.
How did you play today?
How did the bad weather affect your game?
When asked at what age he started playing golf he answers “8,’’ but his mother sitting nearby corrects him and says he actually has been playing since he was 3. That’s when he received some plastic clubs as an Easter present before graduating to real clubs soon after.
Perhaps he was thinking of his first birdie, which, remarkably, came at age 8. Last year, he made his first hole in one.
What’s the best part of your game?
“My short game.’’
Putting or chipping?
But he also says he outdrives his playing partners “a lot” and when asked how far he can hit it, Kody says “260.’’ Although 260 yards may seem quite long for a young man who is just 5-foot-5 and 135 pounds, he’s not exaggerating. A couple of his teammates sitting nearby nod their heads to back his assertion.
So why do you play golf?
“Just to have fun, just to look good,’’ he says, then offers some golf advice, “don’t have three-putts.’’
Kody’s father, Cliff, is a golf junkie who frequently travels to Las Vegas to play in the Golf Channel Amateur League, an event he has won three times in his division. Being retired gives Cliff a lot of time to play golf and he usually plays with his son.
“He wants to play every day,’’ he says. “We might have missed seven days all summer.’’
While Cliff may teach his son the finer points of the game, it’s Kody who teaches his father about handling adversity on the course.
“You or I might be thinking about a shot three or four holes ago, but he steps up and is ready to go. If I shoot a bad round, he’ll say, ‘It’s going to be OK’ and we’ll be laughing about it a week from now.’’
Kody has also been a great influence on his teammates and other golfers around the state, which is evident by the way they interact with each other in the clubhouse after a round.
“Kody’s awesome,’’ says his Union High teammate Jace Woolstenhulme. “We play with him every day and he’s one of our best friends. He practices more than any of us on the team ever thought of.’’
When asked what makes him such a good golfer, Woolstenhulme replies, “The ability for him to leave a bad shot and not worry about it. He just keeps on playing.’’
Union coach Brett Cramer says, “I’d take 15 Kodys. He’s an all-around great kid, a hard worker who loves the game of golf. And the kids love him. He’s inspiring. Players from other teams want to be paired up with him.’’
One of those was Ryan Lowe, the top golfer for Juan Diego High. Kody took a liking to Lowe, so when the Juan Diego team came to play in Roosevelt in a meet, Lowe offered to play a lower spot on the team so he could be paired with Kody.
“It was a lot of fun,’’ Lowe said. “It was at his home course and he played really well. He’s a really cool kid and always positive. I just want to be his friend.’’
Then there’s Park City’s Mitchell Schow, who took first place in the state tournament, winning by eight strokes.
The week before, he had won the region tournament and afterward gave his first-place medal to Kody.
When asked about it, Schow just shrugged it off, saying, “I won, but I believe he’s the real winner. He’s pretty special to me.’’
Kody’s dad almost choked up talking about Schow’s gesture.
“It was amazing,’’ he said. “To give my boy the first-place medal was just unbelievable. Kody took it to school and told the other kids, ‘here’s my first-place medal.’ ’’
Cliff also can’t say enough about how well golfers all around the state have treated his son.
“A couple of bad kids get all the attention, but we have all of these good kids who stand out from the ones you see on the news,’’ he said. “There are a lot of good kids out there in the world.’’
But the one he couldn’t be more proud of is his son.
“He keeps me going he’s my hero.’’
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company