U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Player With 6 Fingers Keeps Trying October 8, 2010 By Ken Klavon, USGA

Ft. Myers, Fla. – As a little girl, most days Laura Risher couldn’t wait to retreat to her backyard where her plastic golf clubs waited for her like some old friend.

Risher, then 8 years old, would wallop plastic balls over the swing set with the store-bought clubs her parents gave her. Little did she know it then but she was getting hooked on the game. Risher eventually would attend a junior college before being offered a scholarship at Florida Atlantic University, where she met her husband of 29 years, Ted Risher.

Before turning 20, she competed in a U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. Before she was 30, she carried a 4 Handicap Index and played in a U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.

So what’s the big deal? Looking at her from afar, no one would gather that Risher had a higher mountain to climb than some. That’s because she plays with a total of six fingers, the same six she was born with.

Risher has undergone a total of six operations to correct webbed hands. The last surgery took place when she was in her sophomore year of high school.

It was a tossup between whether the German measles or [Thalidomide], the drug, caused the birth defects, said Risher, 52, of Issaquah, Wash., after shooting a 99 Saturday in the first round of the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur.

All Risher knows is that her mother took Thalidomide, a drug used during pregnancies between 1957 and 1961 before being recalled, while Laura was in her womb. At some point Risher may have also been exposed to German measles, which can cause congenital rubella syndrome in developing babies. It is suspected that one of the two caused her deformed hands. Still, it didn't stop her from majoring in computer science at Florida Atlantic or playing golf.

On her right hand, she has nubs for her middle, ring and pinkie digits. After her round Saturday, she demonstrated how she is able to grip a club. The left hand provides most of the support during the swing. It also helps that she is a natural left-hander.

As she made her way around Fiddlesticks Country Club, Risher capriciously let loose a barrage of comments aimed at herself – good and bad – after shots. Like on the 514-yard par-4 fourth hole when she converted a 24-foot curling putt for a triple bogey. Sweet! she bellowed. Don’t get her wrong, it wasn’t sarcasm. Risher plays with enthusiasm.

I try not to lose my temper on the course, she said. Sometimes I do get a bit temperamental, but I know I have to keep it in check.

Risher does, however, like to talk to herself. Quite a few times she could be heard mumbling to herself while digging clubs from her bag between shots. On the 324-yard par-4 sixth hole, she let loose an emphatic, Yay! when her drive stayed straight.

To get here, Risher was the first alternate at the qualifier at Meridian Golf Club in Kent, Wash. She shot 81, thanks in large part to her driver, she said. Risher had tried qualifying for the championship the past two years.

This [course] is difficult, she said. The water [tripped] me up. I was trying to figure it out all day.

When she wrapped up her round on the ninth green, Risher shook the hands of fellow competitors Christie Austin and Dianne Yelovich and offered, Sorry I couldn’t have played better for you guys. I did have a few good shots here and there.

More than she imagined.

Ken Klavon is the USGA's Web editor. E-mail him with questions and comments at kklavon@usga.org.