There is an equally poignant and inspiring Instagram post that Max Togisala put up on his account in March. There are five swing sequences shown over the course of five years from 2020 to ’24. In the first two, a strapping teenager with plans to play college golf blasts drives with a mighty left-handed move. Then come the “after” videos, the melancholy acoustic of Hozier’s “Be” accompanying in the background. “Be as you’ve always been” go the lyrics.

In 2022, Togisala sits in a wheelchair under cloudy skies, his swing accomplished with only his right arm swiping at the ball like a backhand in tennis. A year later, Max is standing for his swing with the help of a VertaCat cart for adaptive golfers, and he can take the club back about halfway on a backswing. Then, this year, with Utah’s stunning snowcapped mountains in the distance, Togisala makes a beautiful turn and sends the ball drawing into the blue sky.

“I still look back at these old videos when I was playing golf in high school,” Togisala wrote in the March post. “I’ll be honest I miss those days.”

As much as anything in his life, golf is Togisala’s marker of both time and progress in his journey back from a ski accident at Idaho’s Sun Valley in early 2022 that left him paralyzed and without the use of his legs. During the 70 days he spent in the hospital, the Ogden, Utah, native’s parents brought him clubs so he could chip and putt. No more than a few weeks after being home, Togisala was hitting balls from a wheelchair at a local simulator spot, The Tee Box. (Another Instagram post shows him lashing his first 200-yard drive.) Six months after that, Max was hitting balls or playing golf nearly every day.

“At the beginning, a lot of time was spent comparing myself to what I used to be, which was really tough,” Togisala, 20, said in an interview with Golf Digest last week. “I had to accept that I’m not going to be the same. I can’t go back and change what I did.”

Togisala, who’d been playing golf since his father started him out at 3, had no idea at the time that he was readying himself for a notable achievement in the game. The USGA’s inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open was played at the Pinehurst Resort in July 2022, when Max was still in the early stages of adapting to his new life. Then after he heard about the Open, competing in the championship became a focus.

He entered for the first time last summer, and in the second round on Pinehurst No. 6, Togisala carded four birdies to shoot two-under-par 70. The score smashed by nine shots the previous low in the Seated division. He would go on to win the Seated group with a 16-over total for 54 holes—the 17th-best score among 73 males in all divisions.

His final converted birdie putt came from 10 feet on his 18th hole. “There were a ton of people around the green, and it was an awesome moment, Togisala recalled. “People were shocked that a seated player shot under par.”

Beginning Monday, Togisala will play in defense of his title as the 3rd U.S. Adaptive Open moves to Sand Creek Station, a municipal course in Newton, Kan.

“It was just unreal to be there only a year and a half after my accident,” Togisala said of the 2023 experience. “It felt like I was just in a hospital bed the other day, and then I was playing in the Open. I was just happy to be there, and then to win it, to shoot 70, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

“Mentally,” he added, “it definitely showed me that I can compete against all athletes, and I’m a competitive person. That’s how I grew up. I was the youngest in my family and competitive with my siblings. When I broke my back, I felt like I lost that competitive drive. This tournament kind of helped me figure that out.”

Max Togisala

Max Togisala shakes hands on the 18th hole with other competitors during the first round of the 2023 U.S. Adaptive Open.

Robert Beck

Outgoing and personable, Togisala has garnered plenty of attention since his Adaptive Open win, doing interviews and appearing on podcasts. He’s also competed in a number of adaptive events across the country and currently is serving as Utah’s USGA P.J. Boatwright Intern. The work includes helping to stage the Utah Golf Association’s State Amateur Championship.

Max wants to absorb as much as he can to further advance the cause for his adaptive peers. “I wanted to get the word out about seated golf,” he said. “Not that many people know about it.”

Togisala is attending college at Weber State, and he’s returned to a number of sports he played before the accident, including pickleball and ping pong, for which he has a special chair. “It’s quicker and I can run into a fence with it and be fine,” he said with a laugh.

As for skiing, Max returned the slopes soon after the accident and last year got his own “bucket” that he sits in to ski. “I can go by myself and it’s one of the funnest things to do,” he said. “It feels like freedom away from the wheelchair.”

Given his resilience, you can probably guess that Togisala set a return to Sun Valley exactly one year after his accident. With his fiancée, Grace, and family there for support, he made sure to be on the mountain at the same time of the fall, on the same stretch of slope. Did he have flashbacks? Of course. Was he fearful? Yes.

Seconds into it, however, came a rush of pride and joy.

“I felt like I was conquering something that was really big in my live,” Max recalled. “It was a challenge I could get through.”

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