With Impaired Vision, Nicaragua’s Marin Plays by Feel

Playa del Carmen, MEXICO: Ernesto Marin of Nicaragua during the practice round at the 2020 Latin America Amateur Championship at El Camaleon Mayakoba Golf Course on January 14th, 2020. (Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC)

Ernesto Marin coiled his club, turned through the ball and sent a screaming shot down the famed seventh hole at El Camaleon Golf Club.

Then, he turned to his caddie to ask where it landed.

For most golfers, the feeling that comes with posing after a particularly sweet swing and watching the ball fly is one of the sport’s greatest gifts, but it is one Marin has learned to live without. The Nicaraguan, who shot rounds of 79 and 80 while competing in his sixth Latin American Amateur Championship this week, lost most of the vision in his right eye after a medical episode nearly six years ago.

Marin, who played college golf at Penn State and is a former Nicaraguan Amateur champion, said he remembers waking up one morning during the summer of 2014 and noticing that his right eye kept tearing up. He couldn’t dry it, and his vision was blurred. The situation worsened, and during a series of doctor visits, he was told the cause could be anything ranging from multiple sclerosis to diabetes. Ultimately, he says, the diagnosis was a blood clot that had left him with less than half the vision in his right eye.

“It was really difficult to deal with when it happened,” Marin says. “My dad and I were freaking out. But once we knew what it was, I had to figure out how to live with it.”

Part of that was simply adjusting to a limited range of sight – being able to see parts of a street sign, for example, but not all the words. Golf, though, presented some particular challenges, mostly because Marin had spent 24 years as a right-eye dominant person who now needed to change the way he saw.

Focusing on the ball as he addressed it took some practice, to be sure, but that was less challenging than trying to follow his shots after he hit them. On shorter shots, Marin says, he is usually able to pick up the ball after he hits it since those shots are generally lower. On anything much longer than a 9-iron however, Marin typically has to ask for help.

“A lot of times I’ll look over at my dad to see if he’ll give me some kind of signal,” Marin says. He adds, “Trackman has kind of been a savior for me.”

He isn’t joking. Using the launch monitor has made it easier for Marin to practice, as he doesn’t have to strain to see where his ball goes after each swing on the range. Instead, he just looks at the numbers on the monitor to see if the swing was as good (or bad) as it felt.

After a successful college career, it certainly isn’t the way Marin imagined he would be experiencing golf at 29 years old. But he also knows it could be worse.

At least, he says, when he has to ask other people where his ball landed, the answer – as it was on the seventh hole here during his round earlier this week – is often that it’s in the middle of the fairway.

“I’ve had to overcome plenty in my life,” Marin says. “I love golf and I don’t want to stop playing, so I just look at this as something else I’ve had to deal with along the way.”