How Trackman helped reignite a visually disabled golfer's love for the game

Riley Outten was forced to give up golf because of a degenerative condition that rendered him virtually blind on the course, until someone suggested he try TrackMan. He’s since gone on to be a long hitter on the US long-drive circuit.

Meet Riley. Riley’s a pretty good golfer. Good enough to be a serious contender in the US Men’s Open long drive game. Good enough to hit a ball 395 yards on a 353-yard carry (with a 9-degree Callaway playing driver). And good enough to pursue pro status in the sport of long-drive if he were to decide to go down that route.

But that’s not what makes 26-year-old Riley Outten remarkable. Riley’s severely sight impaired. While he can see his golf ball enough to strike it prodigiously down the fairway, he literally has no idea where it’s gone, beyond that ‘feel’ all golfers share for the quality of each given shot.

In fact, Riley would have most likely been lost to the game. He suffers from a currently incurable condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa that causes vision loss as the retina gradually deteriorates.

“It got really noticeable around 2006 – I was constantly walking into things and falling over, especially in darker settings,” says Riley. “I eventually got it diagnosed in 2008 and, while there’s a lot of research going into the condition, for now, it’s something that can only be managed.”

For Riley, it looked like the death knell to any ambitions he had as a golfer. While his dad acted as guide on the course, it was a frustrating experience and inevitably led him to put down his clubs as the condition took hold.

I don’t really ever remember being able to see the ball fly or even knowing where it went, it just got to a stage where it was pointless for me even trying to play golf

And yet, something continued to worm away at Riley and when he picked up his clubs again after moving back to New Jersey from Arizona, his swing quickly gained attention despite, or perhaps because of, his condition as close friend Mike acted as his eyes on the course.

“Mike really got me back into it, but I hadn’t told him about my vision,” says Riley. “We first met on the range when he complemented me on my drives. ‘Thanks, but did you see where they went?’, and he’d reply, ‘what do you mean?’ until he eventually got me to explain about the condition and said he’d help me out.”

And at this stage, his local golf club, the Westwood Golf Club, in West Deptford New Jersey, got in on the act too. It had a TrackMan available for use and as news of Riley’s situation grew, someone suggested he give it a go to see if it could help his game.

“It had an immediate impact, and it was like a revelation not least because it was difficult and unfair for friends to make a full-time commitment to help me,” Riley says, recalling the memory. “Where I was at with my vision meant that I was unable to play properly in so many ways because of the disability, but with TrackMan, it was like an ‘Oh my God’ moment and a sudden understanding that I could practice.”

“In essence, it made practice normal, and I knew that I could do this.”

In fact, so immediate was the impact on Riley’s game that, at the behest of friends at the club, he spent the next two months practicing religiously so that he could enter the local Long Drive Adaptive Championship.

After playing golf for two months and winning his first Long Drive tournament in the adaptive division, the turning point came at his next event: where the Men’s Open and Adaptive categories ran parallel. Someone suggested he enter both, and his extraordinary distance carried him to victory beating local Long Drive veterans who had been in the game for years competing on the World Long Drive circuit.

“I was only able to get to that level because of TrackMan,” says the New-Jersey native. “Without that feedback of where the ball goes and how it travels, I would have been relying on a phone camera and guesswork.”

Riley has tried other technologies since that first encounter with TrackMan, but none of them have matched up to TrackMan in the same way. Being able to customize the display, making text bigger and more visible, and the easy log in are just some reasons, cites Riley, of why it works for him.

For now, although he says the game is still predominantly about fun for him, he has the next US National Long Drive competition to be held at Myrtle Beach in October 2022 on his agenda, and might even consider turning professional next year, depending on his progress.

Riley also has nothing but praise for the whole golfing community which has welcomed him to the game and shown nothing but appreciation for his remarkable gifts and the adversity he has overcome.

I was playing a tournament in Philadelphia – it was actually a TrackMan tournament using Hit it! – and it had a two-minute counter, but I couldn’t see where my tee had gone after every drive so people were chasing around for me to set it up again.

“In general, I have been so surprised and so happy by the level of understanding I have gotten from everyone just wanting to help me. It was the first time anyone has gone out of their way to include me.” he says. “It’s been fantastic.”

Follow Riley on Instagram at @whered_myballgo