Greensburg Salem golfer’s swing is sweeter with new prosthetic arm

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Tuesday, August 29, 2023 | 11:01 AM


As soon as he arrived home from the Hanger Clinic in Greensburg, Ian Smith grabbed a golf club and headed for his backyard.

The anticipation was too pressing. The butterflies were swarming in his stomach.

He wanted to hug somebody. Now, he could.

A few slides and a couple clicks later, the sophomore from Greensburg Salem was in business, air swinging, taking divots and holding a pose on his follow through.

This feeling was amazing.

“Yeah, I couldn’t wait to try it,” Smith said of his new prosthetic left arm. It comes with a special attachment that allows him to enjoy the game with two arms instead of one.

The 10-pound, robotic-looking fixture has changed the way he golfs, the way he plays guitar, the way he lives his life.

Smith plays on the junior varsity golf team. He put his new arm to use in a match for the first time last week.

“I started using it a couple Thursdays ago,” Smith said. “I instantly started playing better. It’s helped my game exponentially.”

He hit his opening tee shot onto the first fairway Monday at Hannastown Golf Club. The shot was met with some applause from club staffers.

“That’s the best drive I’ve hit, ever,” Smith turned around and said, a smile beaming from his face.

A northern China native, Smith was born with only the top half of his left arm. He was adopted at age 2 and came to the United States with his new parents.

“There are some things I couldn’t do with one arm,” he said. “Like getting on a roller coaster at an amusement park. You have to hold on with two hands. And I have always wanted to play the violin and piano.”

He has tried a number of different prosthetic arms over the years, but none quite like his new carbon fiber model that also includes a hook attachment so he can pick things up.

Smith also plays the baritone horn in the marching band, dabbles in guitar playing and also sings and acts.

He also has a renewed confidence in musical theater.

For golf, he slides on a sleeve, attaches the elbow/forearm unit, then clicks on the coupling grip device, which slips over the shaft of the club and fits into place.

It’s like his own, personal Iron Man glove. It makes him feel super.

“Now I feel like my drive can be as good as others’,” Smith said. “I have to catch up with the other people in things I do.”

He began playing golf with one arm, lining up shots while trying to balance.

“Ian is such a nice kid to be around,” sophomore teammate Adam Larese said. “There is no way I am doing the things he can do if I had one arm. I am really happy for him to see things in his life be more easy to accomplish.”

Greensburg Salem golf coach Erik Doran said people marvel at Smith when he takes the tee at Hannastown Golf Club, the Golden Lions’ home course.

“It’s nice to see him flush a shot,” Doran said. “He is hitting it farther. He is working on his balance because the weight transfer is different swinging with one arm.

“Ian is one of the guys on the team. He blends in. People are impressed.”

While his scoring average is coming down gradually — 60s to 50s for now — Smith has larger goals.

“I want to play varsity next year,” Smith said, changing his answer as he reached the top of a practice swing. “No, maybe this year.

“I have a lot more power and accuracy.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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