Zohar Sharon was a 24-year old officer in an elite Israel Defense Forces anti-terror unit on a clandestine mission when a bomb exploded near his unit. Two officers were killed instantly as chemicals from the explosion flew into Sharon's eyes.
His world eventually went dark as he lost his sight.
"I didn't die, but I felt like I was dead, like my two buddies," Sharon recalled about that time, 28 years later. "Sometimes I even think it would have been better to have died."
Wounded soldiers suffer many traumas, both physical and emotional. But blindness is different.
"When I lost my eyes, it was like I lost my world," Sharon says. "When you lose your sight, the lights go out and you're in a dark, strange and frightening world."
"Everything changes," Sharon explains, "even sleeping isn't the same."
When Sharon dreams, he sees in color, with perfect vision. But when he awakens, it's dark again.
"I reach out because I don't know where I am. Then it dawns on me, I'm in my bed, alive, breathing, but still in darkness."
Groping for Light
For years after the accident, Sharon struggled with depression.
"When you face something like, this you realize what's really important in life," he said. "Money, status, ego, nothing really matters anymore, only God. It's like death was crouching behind the door waiting for me, but never came to take me."
The Israeli Defense Ministry offered to help Sharon learn a new profession as part of his rehabilitation but nothing seemed to suit him.
"I used to love to paint and sculpt," says Sharon, "but it didn't make sense anymore, trying to paint things I couldn't see."
Sharon's family life also began falling apart. He eventually left his first wife and their two kids and moved into a one-room flat in Hadera to live by himself.
Aiming Toward the Sound
Then one day about 15 years ago, a friend from the Caesarea Golf Club came by for a visit.
"He showed me how to hit a ball with a golf club into a shoe box," Sharon recalled. "We put a radio on top of the box so I could aim and hit the ball toward the sound."
Sharon smiles as he recalls that two weeks later, he was beating all his friends from the club.
"They all started coming over to the house just to watch me knock the ball into the box," he said. "I enjoyed making people happy watching me beat them with my eyes closed."
Sharon and Shimshon Levi, his caddy and good friend, decided to teach Sharon how to play golf well enough to enter a tournament for the blind.
"We'd never seen a golf course in our lives, much less watched a golfer hit a ball," he said.
"Shimshon recorded some PGA tournaments from the TV on video and replayed them, in slow motion, until he figured out how to swing. Then he explained it to me and told me to move this way or that."
Practice Makes Perfect
After two years of daily dawn-to-dusk practicing, Sharon entered his first tournament in Scotland in 1996. But their first foray into the sport was not without its novice mistakes.
"One time Shimshon accidentally had me hit an opponent's ball. That was Shimshon's fault, and he's the one who is supposed to see!" Sharon said, grinning. "But I got penalized, and we lost the hole anyway."
Even with the blunders, Sharon managed to win tournaments and amaze people. The well-known golf journalist Lawrence Rubenstein once watched him play in Mapleton, Canada.
On the third hole, Sharon knocked his second shot into the hole from 150 meters away for a rare eagle.
"Rubenstein was so shocked that a blind guy with no golf experience could make that kind of a shot that he gave me his clubs," Sharon laughs. "He walked off the course and said he would never play golf again as long as he lived!"
More Fun than Tiger Woods
A sports reporter from Star magazine said that it was more fun playing with Sharon than with Tiger Woods.
Sharon remembers the time he played at Palm Springs with a former U.S. president.
"It was an easy course to play, but (he) kept cheating," Sharon confided. "Shimshon whispered to me that he saw (him) move his ball out of the sand trap. The president thought no one was looking."
"Then on another hole he hit his ball into the water, pulled out another ball, and pretended nobody saw," Sharon laughed. "Politicians play politics even on the golf course!"
Sharon has become somewhat of a phenomenon around the world. He has played tournaments in Scotland, Ireland, England, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Argentina.
On August 7-8, Sharon will represent Israel in the World Championship and English Open. He has been ranked the No. 1 blind golfer in the world for many years, and he even competes in regular golf tournaments. Last year he won a pairs competition at the local Gaash Golf Club, where he is a member.
No. 1 Blind Golfer
Sharon and Levi also work for local charities. Golf clubs around the world invite him to play in their tournaments to raise money for needy causes.
Recently Solly Almagor, president of Friends of Beit Halochem - Australia, met with Sharon in Israel to discuss fundraising for their work with wounded soldiers. Beit Halochem (House of the Soldier) was established to help the 53,000 disabled Israeli veterans who have ever served their country since 1948."
"These guys have given their ultimate for Israel - their bodies and their health," Almagor explained. "For them, the war is never over. Everyday they need to fight to get their lives back."
Almagor believes that Sharon's story will draw a lot of attention to the work of Beit Halochem and is a great example of how sports can aid rehabilitation.
"Golf gave me life back," Sharon said. "It was like pouring cool water over my body when I was burning up on the inside. It made me want to live again."
The 53-year old Sharon also recently remarried. His face lights up when he talks about his new six-month-old son.
"We have a new baby at home, and when he sees me walk into a room he makes gurgling sounds so I'll come over and pick him up," Sharon said. "The baby understands that I can't see him, so he sits in my lap and grabs my nose and it makes him laugh. He likes making me jump."
Today, Sharon almost always has a broad, winning smile on his face.
"I love what I do," he said. "And I make other people happy doing it."