Should you be told at the age of 7 that your life will be faced with obstacles and hurdles because of a condition beyond your control, does that mean you can’t do everything in your power to meet the challenges?
Should the actions and the words seep out of you a little more slowly than one would expect, does that mean you harbor any less passion?
At every step of his beautiful life, Marcus Narcisse has faced those questions and the answer has always been the same. No. No. Unequivocally no.
Let him put his autism in perspective: “I don’t like the word ‘disability.’ I don’t see it that way. My brain works very well. Slowly, but it works. That comes with the package. I’m still a loving person. I’m still me.”
And what sits at the heart of this gentle, 30-year-old, is a burning passion for golf that is on par with yours and mine. He loves the game, but it’s how and why he fell for golf that should tug at your heart.
“When I was diagnosed with autism, my mother (Marie) told me that I was very bright, but I had to take my time with things. She would always tell me, ‘Take your time, Marcus.’
“When I discovered golf, she encouraged me. It was such a natural game; I could go at my own pace. I fell in love with it.”
At a time when the world of pro golf is inside out and obscene piles of money are obnoxiously being seen as testaments to the game’s wealth, Marcus Narcisse’s saga accentuates the rich character possessed by many people within golf’s borders.
“I just believe that he has a powerful story to be shared and that golf is a game for everyone,” said Mary Lou Bohn, President, Titleist Golf Balls. “To invite and include everyone to love this game is what matters.”
Bohn came to know Narcisse through a friend, Mike Curtin, whose introduction to the young man was owed to the Lee Elder Internship program during the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Narcisse’s application for the internship might have frightened some people away knowing that he had autism, but cheers to folks at The Country Club for opening their arms.
“And thanks to Kamille (Ramos, the USGA’s Director DE & I Culture and Community) and her team for making me feel welcomed,” said Narcisse. “It was a very touching week for people so selfless to see me as a person, not someone with a disability.”
If you get the sense that Narcisse made an impact at the U.S. Open as real as Matt Fitzpatrick’s victory, you’re correct. “He has such a high golf IQ,” said Curtin, who spent some of his volunteer hours helping Narcisse get through large crowds. “He tugged at your heart.”
Nick Lussier, the head golf professional at Shawnee CC in Delaware, Penn., knows that better than most. You could say that it’s about a 25-mile ride from East Stroudsburg State University to Shawnee CC, but that isn’t what Lussier thought about when he met Narcisse for the first time. He marveled at the seemingly insurmountable odds Narcisse had overcome, a child with autism who had gotten his bachelor’s degree at East Stroudsburg and was now pursuing his masters.
“Knowing that he comes from a part of New Jersey (Orange) where you don’t get these opportunities very often, he is very aware,” said Lussier.
As one who has an autistic brother who is involved in Special Olympics back in Rhode Island, Lussier leaped into the opportunity to interview Narcisse, who had applied for a job at the club.
“His passion for golf shines,” said Lussier, who has found perfect roles for Narcisse on a part-time basis, mostly helping with junior camps. “Nothing deters Marcus. When he meets an obstacle, he goes in another direction to find a way.”
During his free time when Marcus Narcisse can move at his own pace, he loves to chip and putt. That is the casualness of golf that his mother always loved for him. But it was on those Saturdays as a young boy when he traveled to Montclair Golf Club with his father, Paciene, the club’s locker room attendant, where he first came in touch with the game.
“Our neighborhood was bad and my father didn’t want me to get in trouble,” said Marcus.
The golf course was a sort of sanctuary for Marcus, as it was for an older brother, Kasem, who would caddie, a profession that still takes him winters to Calusa Pines GC in Naples, and to Baltusrol in the summers. “The head pro saw me pick up a club and he taught me how to hold it. That is where I learned about golf.”
But even with passion, one requires a compass. For Marcus, that was Marie Narcisse, like her husband, an immigrant from Haiti. “She was my best friend. She believed in me and she gave me the confidence to believe in myself,” said Marcus.
When she died of cancer several years ago, Marcus Narcisse thought of quitting college, then changed his mind. “She was a Super Hero to me and I had made a promise to her to finish college, so I did.”
He didn’t stop there, either. “It was weird, but I wasn’t satisfied,” so he got his masters in behavioral analysis.
“Like I said,” laughed Lussier, “he’s a special human. Nothing will stop him.”
Which is why after the U.S. Open concluded at The Country Club, Narcisse asked if he could be part of the volunteer force at the first annual U.S. Adaptive Open at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. “I encountered so many people with challenges, all I could do was cry,” said Narcisse.
“They made me so proud.”
Committed to being an advocate for the disability community and being “a strong promoter of using golf to unlock the potential of youths with disabilities,” he said, Marcus Narcisse will continue to bask in those calm moments on the putting green and the quiet pursuits to get better as a golfer.
“I want to bring this (mission) to a wider audience. All we are asking for is to enjoy the game like everyone else. I want to be a beacon of light.”
This article was originally published on Power Fades by Jim McCabe on June 7, 2023.
More from Jim McCabe
"I have a passion for playing golf that is surpassed only by my passion for writing about people who have a passion for playing golf, for working in golf, for living their lives around golf. Chasing the best professional golfers around the world for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and the PGA Tour for more than 20 years was a blessing for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I’ve been left with precious memories of golf at its very best, but here is a takeaway that rates even more valuable – the game belongs to everyone who loves it. 'Power Fades' will be a weekly tribute with that in mind, a digital production to celebrate a game that many of us love. If you share a passion for golf, sign up down below for a free subscription and join the ride. And should you have suggestions, thoughts, critiques, or general comments, feel free to pass them along."