Golf: Angels on the Links - Louisiana Golf Team & Their Supporting Cast
Dan McDonald, Submitted to Tee to Green Magazine, May 2, 2021 and retitled by the Athletic Network with permission of Dan McDonald.Golf may be the most social of all sports, one where the opportunity to interact with playing partners and friends is a basic foundation of the game.
It’s also a sport where lasting relationships can be made, much like the one Lane Wiley created over the past few years with the University of Louisiana’s golf team. Like most such relationships, this one is mutually beneficial, with both of them providing support to the other.
That support was never more apparent than on the last day of April, when Wiley walked outside Oakbourne Country Club – the home of UL golf and its impressive office, locker room and practice facility – and saw an almost-new 2015 Buick Verano automobile waiting next to the front door. The bright-red bow on the red automobile (Ragin’ Cajun colors, of course) let Wiley know that his beaten-down and barely-running 1993 Honda Accord wasn’t going to be his only transportation going forward.
“I really don’t know what to say,” the 49-year-old Wiley said. “Oh, my God. Oh, my gosh.”
Wiley has faced more than his share of adversity over his 49 years. Born with only one arm and one leg, and missing fingers on his “good” hand, he’s faced challenges throughout his life. But golf was a sport he migrated to (he was also an avid surfer and skateboarder as a youth), and despite his physical drawbacks, he played for almost three decades … and played it well. He won a flight title one year at the National Amputee Golf Championship, and has a couple of 76 rounds to his credit.
More physical issues began to limit his course time, but he found another outlet. UL athletic development director Gerald Hebert, a nearby neighbor of Wiley, hooked him up with Cajun coach Theo Sliman almost three years ago. Wiley became an unofficial part of the UL team shortly afterward, attending practices once a week and sometimes hitting short shots or putts during those sessions.
He also developed relationships with all of the Cajun players, which Sliman said was a benefit to both.
“When our guys may be a little down,” Sliman said, “they look at Lane and think about what he has to go through every day. I think it puts things into perspective for them.”
“There’s no better person to look to for dealing with adversity,” said senior Peter Hinnant, the Cajuns’ top finisher in the recent Sun Belt Conference Championships. “Everyone has their own problems, but when we’d hear about the problems he has with his prostheses (his artificial leg is a continual issue), you get a new sense about life.”
“They’re my angels,” Wiley said of the Cajun team. “I don’t think they realize how much they help me. They’re always so positive, and I need that. There’s so much positive energy around all of them.”
Wiley’s visits with the team were curtailed during the COVID pandemic, when he said he rarely left the Bendel Gardens house in Lafayette that he shares with his mother. It was only recently that he returned to being around the Cajun team, after he’d completed his COVID vaccine shots and felt safe being around the squad.
“We’re glad to have you back,” said senior Justin Caldwell at an April 30 team meeting at Oakbourne that Wiley attended. “You don’t know how much you were missed, because you push us and help us push each other to be the best we can be.”
Shortly after that, at Hebert’s urging, Wiley walked outside, followed by the Cajun squad. It wasn’t long after that Wiley had to use his Ragin’ Cajun cap and shirt sleeve to wipe away the tears.
It was at his return to involvement with the UL team, a return that was hit-or-miss on occasion because his vehicle was unreliable to drive, that Hebert came up with the idea to raise funds to help Wiley with transportation. He enlisted Sliman and the Cajun squad, who jumped on board without hesitation, and their work along with other friends and followers made the new vehicle possible.
Don Hargroder, Jr., general manager for Courtesy Automotive in Lafayette, was instrumental in making the purchase possible. Sliman pointed out that every member of the Cajun team dug into their own pockets to help.
“Lane has taught us lessons that go way beyond being on the golf course,” Sliman said. “One of my goals as a coach is to teach our players how to conduct themselves in their lives and not just help them improve as golfers, and what it means to be a friend to others. This was a great life lesson for them … really, for all of us.”
It was also a day many of them won’t forget, as Wiley hugged each and every one of the nine UL team members.
“I don’t have the words for this,” Wiley said, his one hand holding his heaving chest. “You guys are all just the best.”