By Andy Scheidler
WNC News Share
Sitting in fifth place going into the final round, it appeared golf partners Jason Hedrick and Eric Hall might miss out on a top-three finish and a medal.
The duo from Macon County represented North Carolina at the North America Special Olympics, held Sept. 23-25, in Nashville, Tennessee.
Playing an alternate shot format for nine holes each day, they shot a 47 followed by a 54. Both were tired on the second day – Hedrick from the excitement of being in a new place and Hall from playing so much golf after spending the previous week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
But they both got their rest and fired a 46 on the final day.
While waiting for the scores to be tabulated, Hall talked to the team from Wisconsin that entered the final round in fourth place. Hall discovered he and Hedrick finished ahead of them, but still wasn’t quite sure where they finished when they were asked to line up in the staging area.
Hall then asked a woman if she happened to have the results.
“Yeah, I’ve got them right here,” she said. “It’s how I’m lining everyone up.”
“Do you know who finished first?” Hall asked.
“The team from North Carolina, Eric Hall and Jason Hedrick,” she said.
Hall told Hedrick the thrilling news, but it didn’t immediately sink in.
“I don’t think he realized what we’d done until he got the gold placed around his neck,” Hall said.
Hall and Hedrick actually tied for first, but they won via a scorecard playoff. The tie-breaker compares scores beginning on the hardest handicap hole until there’s a separation.
Hall wasn’t sure how many holes were used to break the tie.
“It worked out,” he said.
It’s the second time Hedrick, 43, has won a gold medal. Hedrick, who is intellectually challenged, competed in the National Special Olympics Games in Iowa in 2006. He won a gold medal while competing in the 4x100 relay.
He and his mother, Pat, were living in Sylva at that time. Jason has been playing golf for almost two decades, and they moved to The Golf Club at Mill Creek two years ago.
Jennifer Garrett, coordinator for Special Olympics of Macon County, said she and Pat Hedrick nearly fainted when they found out the duo had gone from fifth to first.
“I don’t understand how that happened,” Garrett said. “They did some amazing stuff.”
The national games were played at Hermitage Golf Course. They played the front nine each morning.
The course was beautiful, Hall said, and featured a quirk unfamiliar to most golfers: sheep roaming the course. Golfers are encouraged not to get too close to the sheep, who get boarded up each night.
“It’s something you don’t see every day,” Hall said. “You’re fixing to hit a tee ball and all of the sudden sheep are running up through the fairway. It was definitely different.”
Hall and Hedrick play together every Tuesday afternoon at The Golf Club at Mill Creek. Other golfers join them for what is dubbed the “Jason Classic.”
Hall thanked Mill Creek owners Tony and Brenda Munger for allowing them to practice and play there, in addition to their support.
Hedrick also works at the course. He got started through the Macon Citizens Habilities program, before transitioning into being able to work independently.
After receiving their medals, Hall and Hedrick posed for numerous pictures. Hedrick mentioned to Hall that if it didn’t take so long, they could’ve gotten back to play nine at Mill Creek.
Tony Munger, who Hedrick calls “Pops,” often grills burgers for tournaments.
“We’ve got to get back and help Pops get them hamburgers ready,” Hedrick said.
“We’re out here celebrating a pretty big deal,” Hall said with a chuckle while recalling the moment, “and his mind is back at Mill Creek.”
A fundraising page helped cover costs for traveling to the tournament, and Hall thanked everyone for their financial contributions. He also thanked Garrett for her tremendous support.
Hall and Hedrick won the North Carolina tournament, held in Charlotte in November. That victory qualified them for the National Games 10 months later.
It’s possible Hedrick could eventually progress to playing as an individual. It’s something they’ll reassess later in the year, Hall said.
For now, though, they plan on defending their state title next month.
Being state champs, and now national champs, is a pretty neat feeling.
“To do it for Jason is really special,” Hall said. “And to do it for Macon County and North Carolina, to know we got selected to play in that event and to win a gold medal, that means a lot. That’s pretty cool.”