GREAT FALLS — Former US Open champ Hale Irwin once said: “Golf is the loneliest sport, you’re completely alone with every conceivable opportunity to defeat yourself.”
But that’s not the case for Special Olympian Phillip Maurer. Every time he golfs, he has his friend and unified partner Patrick Winderl by his side.
Winderl and Maurer play as one unit on the course, alternating shots and encouraging each other.
"I've known Phillip for a long time. He used to work with my wife and so I've probably known him for the better part of 10, 12 years,” Winderl said. "And then five years ago, he was kind enough to ask me if I'd be willing to be his unified partner for Special Olympics. So we've had a great time the last several years.”
Phillip has Down syndrome and is adept at communicating through smiles, high fives, laughs and expressions. Sometimes his words are hard to understand, but the message is always clear.
"I love the enthusiasm. You can see the excitement you get the fist pumps,” Winderl said. "Sometimes he'll jump up and down. It's just fun to watch.”
They’re playing partners - but they’re also each other’s biggest fans. Quick with encouragement, tips, countless high fives and a good-natured prank or two.
“He's a ton of fun. First and foremost he's very patient with me,” Winderl said. "He's very good at bailing me outta trouble. And he just enjoys playing golf, which is my favorite thing to do."
They have fun, but they also know how to lock in.
“When Phillip's putter gets hot, it gets real hot. So there have been a couple times when he's made some clutch putts that have been a ton of fun,” Winderl said. "And then the medal ceremony. Being able to stand on stage with Phillip and add to the many hardware that he has, has been really cool.”
All those medals have led to an opportunity. Next month, Patrick and Phillip will travel to Orlando, Florida to represent Montana at the Special Olympics national games.
“We're gonna be competing against the best athletes in the country,” Winderl said. "So we're just gonna go down there and play as well as we can and have a great time.”
Phillip chimes in: “Fairways and greens!"
Golf at the USA games will take place at Orange County National Golf Center on June 6th-9th. With over 200 participating athletes, the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games will host skills competitions, individual standard, and Unified, alternate stroke competitions.