Brandon Canesi has become an internet sensation for a hole in one he made on Feb. 27 at The Wizard Golf Club.
The student at the Golf Academy of America’s Myrtle Beach campus holed a 7-iron from 150 yards at the island-green 17th hole, and a friend was filming on an iPhone as Canesi and his playing partners went bonkers after the ball dropped in the cup.
The video went viral – Canesi said it had more than 2 million views in the first week – and even made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.
The clip has given viewers around the world a snapshot of Canesi’s amazing ability.
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But it is just a 50-second glimpse of how Canesi has been inspiring for 26 years, and he’s dedicated to doing it for rest of his life through a non-profit foundation he has created called Hole High.
Canesi was born with partially developed hands so he needs specially-designed clubs that he can’t swing in a traditional manner, yet the ace is actually his second and he carries an impressive 13 handicap index.
He began attending the Golf Academy in January to improve his own playing ability, learn more about the golf business and improve his teaching ability to further his foundation’s cause.
Hole High has a mission to inspire others to overcome their limitations while promoting a love of golf.
Canesi, a native of Northfield, N.J., also wants to raise money to donate to Shriners Hospitals for Children and other causes, and he has had one fundraising golf tournament last summer that attracted 80 players and afforded a Shriners donation.
“I created the foundation because I wanted to inspire other people to overcome their limitations, and also raise money if I could to get people equipment because you can’t buy clubs like mine anywhere,” Canesi said. “So if I found someone that maybe wanted to play like me I could raise money and make them equipment, and spread love of the game is really what it’s about.”
Canesi, who turned 26 last Sunday, has Limb Difference, and his family believes it is a byproduct of the medication his mother was prescribed after losing what would have been Canesi’s twin in the womb. “It got to my hands,” Canesi said.
He initially took to the game at about the age of 6 while visiting his maternal grandfather, who lived on a golf course in Florida. He was short enough to be able to pin the shaft of his grandfather’s club near his right underarm and swing the club left-handed using a claw-like grip with his left hand while using his right arm for stability.
“I was more interested in driving the golf cart, naturally as a kid,” Canesi said. “But grabbing the club and seeing my older brother hit and seeing my grandpa hit, it’s just that natural thing you want to do anything your brother does, you kind of want to compete with him. Being able to hit something as far as you can excited me as a kid. So I was hooked from the get-go, as soon as I hit a good shot it was immediately hooked.”
He played for a couple years, but in the several years that followed Canesi gravitated to other sports including basketball, football, baseball, tennis, skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. “Really anything that was around, if I was bored I would pick it up and play it. Literally anything,” said Canesi, who has regular bowling matches with fellow academy students on Wednesdays and recently bowled a 237 with eight strikes and a spare. “I like to be active. . . . and there’s nothing I can’t do.
“It’s really about not seeing it as a limitation. I’ve always been a normal guy, played sports and played video games.”
Canesi is committed to helping Shriners because it made him prosthetics in his youth, including a glove that hinged for baseball. They also made him a prosthetic for golf but he didn’t like the way it worked. “That’s kind of when I realized how I used to play when I was a kid,” Canesi said.
Golf is a Canesi family sport, as he plays with his father, mother, both his older and younger brother, and brother-in-law. So at the age of 16 he wanted to pick golf back up again.
He consulted with his uncle, Tom Parr, a retired firefighter and avid golfer who dabbles in club-making in his basement, about creating longer-shafted clubs he could use. They created rudimentary clubs for Canesi when he was 17.
“He threw on the goggles and started making magic happen,” Canesi said. “They were prototypes to say the least. They were two full steel shafts inside of each other. They were so heavy and they sounded like a broken bat when you hit it because the inner shaft was just rattling around.”
He and his uncle determined he would need longer graphite shafts that were lighter but still extra stiff to prevent whipping, which they found in clubs used by long drive competitors that required an extra extension of a foot or more. So he’s now on his second set of clubs.
“I needed clubs to match my skills so I could see how good I could be,” Canesi said. “As soon as we made them I immediately started hitting better shots. The clubs were lighter, it didn’t hurt as much, it didn’t take as much effort to swing them.”
Northfield is just outside Atlantic City and Canesi’s father, Sonny, is a host at Harrah’s Casino who would send deserving gamblers to Canesi’s de facto home course, Atlantic City Country Club.
“Whenever they needed a fourth they would call me up to fill the slot because most of the time the people loved playing with me because of how I play and why I’m playing,” Canesi said. “I knew that this was something that could inspire people, because everywhere I went people were amazed by how I could hit the ball, and I kind of just always felt it was something I could do naturally.”
Canesi’s first hole in one is even more impressive than his second. It came on a 190-yard hole with a 5-wood while playing with his father and two brothers on Father’s Day in 2016.
On to Myrtle Beach
Canesi attended a community college, “but I didn’t have any drive, I didn’t know why I was there so it didn’t suit me,” he said.
He has worked several jobs, including in a warehouse, at Radio Shack, at a sandwich shop, as a cleaning supervisor at Harrah’s Casino, and as a snowboard instructor.
“I’ve been all over the place,” Canesi said. “I was working dead-end jobs, I didn’t know where my life was going and I was super stressed out."
Golf was a “getaway” for him on the weekends and sometimes after work. Then he saw a commercial for the Golf Academy of America and decided to heed some longstanding advice from his mother, Melissa Marshall, who is a singer. She was a regular in Atlantic City and is still booked at some AC resorts occasionally, but now sings mostly at a bar in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in the summer.
“I learned from my mom, she taught me, ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ ” Canesi said. “I kind of knew I had to bet on myself and take a chance.”
Marshall is an inspiration herself as a survivor of colorectal cancer who created the No You Cant'cer Foundation to combat the disease.
Canesi chose the Myrtle Beach campus among the school’s five locations because his stepsister attended Coastal Carolina a decade ago and the family still has a rental home in the area that had space for him. Canesi called the school to make sure his disability wouldn’t prohibit him from enrolling and was told it wouldn’t.
“I came here to learn as much as I can so I can get better, but also so that in the future I can help other people like myself, and not even just like myself with limitations, but kids and everyone in general,” Canesi said. “Golf is a mental game and everyone has limitations, you have to overcome it.”
After graduating from the 18-month program, he wants to specialize in teaching adaptive golf, participate in motivational speaking and expand Hole High. “Really anything to show other people they can do anything they want to do if they believe in themselves,” Canesi said, “and play as much golf as possible.”
Since he posted the hole-in-one video on his Instagram page and other golf and general sports blogs and sites shared it, Canesi has received messages from people around the world telling him how he inspires them.
“They tell me their stories and how I’m an inspiration and they’re going to keep doing what they’re trying to do because I can do what I do, and that’s all I ever wanted right there,” he said. “So I can already deem myself successful in a way, but it’s just the beginning, I want to keep going.”
Nike contacted him to arrange for some equipment and TaylorMade is sending personalized balls with “Hole High” on it. “It has been an unreal month,” said Canesi, who would really like a golf manufacturer to step up and start making the long shafts he needs. “It has been unreal just to be acknowledged and noticed and seen around the world of what my mission is and kind of what mission I’ve been on ever since I was a kid, and that’s just to not let my limitations get the best of me.”
Canesi said he wants to join forces with other golf organizations that assist golfers with disabilities including Gianna Rojas’ Adaptive Golfers foundation based at Barefoot Resort, Jason Faircloth’s United States Disabled Golfers Association based in North Carolina, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
“We’re all one,” Canesi said. “And I want to work with The First Tee program to mentor kids to not treat people differently who have limitations, bullying, all that kind of stuff. It’s really just working with everyone and making a better world.”