Drive to be Great: South Florida golf pro teaches technique to those battling Parkinson’s disease

WSVN — The death of Muhammad Ali shined a spotlight on a disease that robbed the boxing legend of his athletic abilities. One South Florida golf pro is helping those with Parkinson’s in their own “Drive to be Great.” 7’s Jeff Lennox has our special assignment report.

Muhammad Ali: “I shook up the world!”

The beloved boxer who declared himself “The Greatest” clearly had plenty of fight in the ring.

Muhammad Ali: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!”

But Muhammad Ali’s longest fight didn’t start until the gloves came off.

The champ bravely battled Parkinson’s disease for 32 years. Brian Orfall from Hollywood says he was diagnosed in 2005.

Brian Orfall, golfer: “Oh, my God, I had no idea what Parkinson’s was, but with the help of good people and good medicines, and a lot of information, people can live well with Parkinson’s these days.”

And for Brian, living well means playing well. His sport? Not boxing, but golf.

Brian Orfall: “It’s funny because I keep playing better and better. I have people say to me sometimes, ‘Wow, before you got sick you must have been one hell of a golfer.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, not exactly.'”

Brian credits a South Florida golf instructor with helping improve his game.

Brian Orfall: “His techniques are somewhat unorthodox.”

Eric Kaplan is a golf pro. He has worked with PGA tour professionals, showing them a method he originally developed to help golfers like Brian.

Eric Kaplan: “I opened up schools with the effort of teaching people with Parkinson’s how to play golf.”

Eric (teaching Brian): “We want to keep the shoulders down to engage more stable muscles.”

Eric says his technique centers around the optimal putting position, and involves the wrists, arms, shoulders and back.

Many afflicted with the neurological disorder have tremors and are unable to normally control their movements.

Eric Kaplan: “When we’re holding the putter, if we have any bit of angle in the wrists, we’ll still see some shakes. The moment that we bow the wrist down, we create a natural body lock that will very much quell the tremors.”

While Brian says he does not normally shake, he suffers in other ways: muscle stiffness, a weak voice and fatigue. He takes 15 to 20 pills per day.

Brian Orfall: “When the medications are all working and everything is clicking, I feel close to normal. When they’re not working, it might be hard for me to walk to the next tee over there.”

Last year, Brian played golf almost every single day — and raised more than $1,600 for The Michael J. Fox Foundation in the process.

And, if you’re wondering where his teacher’s passion for Parkinson’s lessons comes from, it’s personal.

Eric’s dad was among an estimated one million Americans living with the disease.

Eric Kaplan: “Within 10 years, he was basically bedridden. He had terrible shaking, dyskinesia. And ultimately, he passed away of respiratory issues, kind of similar to Muhammad Ali.”

As for Brian, he plans to continue to play the game he loves — with the perfect putts and frustrating swings that are part for the course in a never-ending drive to be great.

Brian Orfall: “I will have to be physically removed from the golf course someday.”

To check out more information on Parkinson’s disease, and this instructor’s technique, click on the links below.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

The Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research:
www.michaeljfox.org

Parkinson’s Disease Foundation:
www.pdf.org

Axys Golf:
www.axysgolf.com/about-us

ParkinTour:
www.parkintour.org

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