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Anthony, 12, wins first Hero’s Handshake

Inspirational 12-year-old Anthony Bridgeman has been given golf’s first Hero’s Handshake for the way he uses the sport to deal with his hidden disabilities of autism and dyspraxia.

Anthony, a member at The Belfry in Warwickshire, was chosen to receive the inaugural award by the Young Golf Ambassadors, who represent England Golf and the Golf Foundation.

The handshake is designed to recognise young people who get the most out of the game and Anthony was surprised with it at his regular Saturday junior coaching session.

Anthony described himself as ‘gobsmacked’ and said: “It's really amazing that I'm the first person to receive this trophy and I just hope I can inspire people to take up and enjoy golf.”

Ambassador Ali Jodiyawalla gave Anthony the handshake and said: “We want to award the Hero’s Handshake to people who sum up what golf’s all about – that it’s a great, fun sport for everyone. Anthony is a brilliant person to receive the first handshake.”

The ambassadors set out to give golf a fresh, young voice and aim to challenge negative perceptions about the sport and get more people talking about and playing the game. They chose Anthony to have the first handshake for four reasons:

• Raising awareness of disabilities and inspiring everyone, while pushing himself to achieve his own personal targets, despite major challenges.
• Supporting other young people to enjoy the sport via coaching, encouraging and advising.
• Determination and commitment to practicing, playing and enjoying the sport he loves.
• Overall positivity about golf and being an amazing role model to others with or without disabilities.

Anthony started playing golf when he was seven because his father thought the game might help him overcome his shyness, make new friends and address his communication difficulties.

He immediately loved golf because of its repetitive nature and he enjoys the process of learning as well as playing. For the last two years he has spent every Saturday volunteering at junior coaching sessions all day at the Belfry.

This is a huge challenge which takes Anthony well outside his comfort zone, but he perseveres to improve his communication skills. He is absolutely determined and focussed to learn everything about the sport while inspiring others around him.

For someone with short term memory issues he’s found ways to tackle his challenges, such as how to remember his equipment or his score, choosing the right club and putting swing changes into practice.

Anthony’s own heroes are his coach, Phil Akers – a finalist for the England Golf Coach of the Year Award for the past two years – and his dad, Andrew, who currently runs his Twitter account, @anthonygolf2006, which tracks his life and golfing journey.

Andrew commented: “Anthony deserves this recognition by his peers for his amazing kind-hearted and gentle nature, willingness to help anyone, his sheer determination and perseverance to improve, whilst facing major daily personal challenges. We are so proud of him and all he has achieved so far, long may it continue”.

Phil added: “Anthony is one of the most inspiring young men I’ve ever come across. I can honestly say that he is the hardest working pupil I’ve ever had, his enthusiasm for the game is infectious. He has a great family around him who go above and beyond to give him the love and support he needs and every day he tries his hardest in everything he does. I’m very proud to call him my friend and beyond proud of his determination and efforts he puts in every day.”

Anthony has over 1400 Twitter followers around the world from all different backgrounds. He regularly chats with other young golfers and with children and adults with autism and dyspraxia. He’s had positive feedback in the past from golfers like Ernie Els, Gary Player, Danny Willett and Nick Faldo. His ambition is to be the first Masters champion with hidden disabilities.

• The Young Ambassadors will be giving a Hero’s Handshake each month. Follow them on Instagram @getgolfing and tell them about potential heroes!

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