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3-year-old golfer amazes with one-arm swing
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3-year-old golfer amazes with one-arm swing

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LINWOOD - When Joe Morrissey is not spending time at his family's summer home in Ocean City, he lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with his wife, Marcia Lee, and the couple's 3-year-old son, Tommy.

Their house is adjacent to the famous Bear's Club in Jupiter, Fla., and less than a mile from the exclusive neighborhood that is home to golfers such as Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie.

"We've never formally met any of them," Joe said during an interview at Linwood Country Club last week. "But I see Rory riding his bike sometimes. I told him to 'hit 'em straight,' and he said, 'Thanks.' "

There could come a time when Tommy is more famous than all of them.

Being able to hit a golf ball nearly 100 yards as a toddler is impressive. But Tommy can do it with one arm.

Tommy's right arm did not develop below the elbow. According to Marcia Lee, doctors at Shriner's Hospital believe it was due to blood clot.

Tommy has nicknamed his right arm Nemo, the title character from the movie "Finding Nemo," who has one small, weak fin.

"It's both a gift and a challenge," Joe said. "And he doesn't know he has either one."

In many ways, he's a typical 3-year-old. During a recent visit to Linwood Country Club, he colored on the paper place mats, munched on chicken fingers and played a race car game on an iPad.

Once the subject of golf came up, however, his attention shifted.

"Go hit balls?" he asked.

He then showed his prowess, repeatedly whacking tee shots with his sawed-off driver over the pond at Linwood's 11th hole to the amazement of bystanders.

The group included Linwood head golf professional Jeff LeFevre, who was introduced to the prodigy last week and was soon moved to tears.

"I was asked to give him a lesson, and I was very skeptical at first," LeFevre said. "Most 3-year-olds are more interested in Tonka Trucks than golf. I teach children's clinics and my main goal sometimes is to avoid getting hit with the ball.

"But Tommy was different. His setup and stance were perfect and he had the slight hesitation at the top of his backswing that you're looking for. I stepped back and had a tear in my eye. The ball is the biggest truth in golf and he hit it square. He is beyond unique."

Joe and Marcia Lee first noticed Tommy's interest in golf when he was about 18 months old. Joe was watching the Golf Channel one day when Tommy walked over to the TV, stood in front of it, and started emulating the players' swings.

They bought him a set of plastic clubs and watched in amazement as he would spend hours whacking balls in the yard. And his enthusiasm didn't end there.

"Most kids have stuffed animals in their cribs," Marcia Lee said. "Tommy slept with his golf clubs. And it wasn't just one club. He had eight in there. One night we forgot one and he freaked out and said, 'I need my driver.' "

Most kids also watch programs on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. But for Tommy, the Golf Channel remains "must-see TV."

Joe, 44, and Marcia Lee, 37, are careful not to push him too hard, however. After all, Tommy won't be 4 until Dec. 21. During a recent outing at Linwood Country Club, he enjoyed hitting balls toward the fountain in the middle of the pond as much as he did hitting them over it.

In Florida, Joe and Tommy play at Frenchman's Reserve Country Club in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, though their visits usually consist of trips to the driving range or a few holes.

"There are times when we have to go back to a hole because he left his Matchbox cars there," Joe said with a laugh. "Or he'll just want to practice hitting balls in the water. He's usually good for about five holes. By the sixth, he wants to ride on the back of the cart like a fireman."

But when he's focused, his swing is smooth and his joy is pure.

LeFevre isn't the only person who's shed a tear watching him. The Morrisseys recalled how an former NFL player and some disabled veterans broke down upon seeing him in action.

With the Morrisseys, it's an every day occurrence.

"Tommy is right-handed even though he doesn't have a right hand," Marcia Lee said. "He loves to hold my face when he hugs me."

Contact David Weinberg:


@PressACWeinberg on Twitter

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