Suffolk boy finds gold in Arizona

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jesús Godinez, who has a disability resembling autism, represents the Suffolk Special Olympics chapter, Area 29, at the 2012 North America Golf Invitational Tournament in Arizona in which he won a gold medal.

Jesús Godinez, a seventh-grader who attends John Yeates Middle School, recently won a gold medal in the Special Olympics’ 2012 North America Golf Invitational Tournament at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, Ariz.

The three-day event in September featured more than 200 golfers of all ages and abilities from 18 states and Canada.

Godinez has a pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified that is like autism. Autistic children tend strongly toward routine behaviors, however, which helps them grasp many facets of golf that are also routine.

Seventh-grade golfer Jesús Godinez was accompanied to Arizona by Special Olympics Area 29 coordinator Frank Zielinski, right, who also competed with his son, Tim, who has Down syndrome.

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A phrase that Godinez has been using lately certainly applies to his performance in the tourney.

“Yeah, man, that’s what I’m talking about!”

Godinez earned a score of 170 playing Level 2 Alternate Shot Team Play, which means that he and his partner, Floyd Byrd of Suffolk, took turns hitting the ball during the course of a nine-hole round. There were three rounds.

They placed first in Division 7, a bracket based on ability level that is measured from their average scores from throughout this year.

“It kind of was an amazing feat for both of us,” Byrd said. “Now, we went out and had a couple of preliminary rounds, and did OK. And then Sunday, being the medal round, not so much me, but Jesús — he hit every shot I asked him to hit. He played like a champ, and basically, he won the gold medal.”

They were representing Area 29, the Suffolk Special Olympics chapter for which Byrd is a volunteer. He also heads up the Challenger Division of Bennett’s Creek Little League, which provides playing opportunities for children with disabilities.

“He practices (golf) with Jesús every Monday, and every tournament that we go to, he plays with Jesús all the time,” said Frank Zielinski, a coordinator for Area 29.

Byrd has enjoyed being golf partner to Jesús for the past two years, but he’s known him even longer.

“Well, he actually plays on my baseball team, so I’ve known him and coached him for probably five years in some athletic sport and just watched him grow and develop and come out of his shell and turn into a very exciting person, somebody that’s fun to be around and very coachable,” Byrd said of his golf partner. “He loves sports of all kinds, and he’s great to work with.”

Zielinski said Godinez qualified to go to the national tourney by winning gold at a local tournament earlier this year. Beyond the local level, competitors must have their area chapter pulled from a hat to be able to compete in a tournament.

“All the nationals, they work on a quota,” he said. “Suffolk had a quota of seven spots that we could have filled to take seven athletes to go.”

Area 29 had the resources and volunteers to send only three — Godinez, Spencer Holt and Tim Zielinski.

“Spencer Holt and (volunteer) Lee Blount, played on Level 2, nine-hole alternate shot, and they got fourth place in their bracket,” Zielinski said. “And then myself and my son Tim played level three, which is 18-hole alternate shot, and we finished fourth in the first bracket, in the high bracket. So, the whole Suffolk team, we all (came) home with medals.”

Because Godinez’ performance earned a gold medal, it means even bigger things could be in store for the 13-year old.

“My guideline as far as being a coordinator for Area 29 is take the highest players who finished the highest in their divisions, and they move on to the next one,” he said. “So, now that Jesús has gotten the gold medal for the national games, that makes him qualify for a world game.”