NORTON, Mass. – At 528 yards and with a handful of nasty bunkers and a good stretch of waste area to carry onto the green, the par-5 18th hole at TPC Boston is a good place to take a breather in your round of golf – if you’re in position to do so.
And with four other partners, including Rory Sabbatini, Staff Sgt. Dale Beatty certainly was in position to do so.
“I’m in good hands. They’ve got me covered,” Beatty said, sitting in a golf cart to the left of the 18th hole.
The greater truth is, even had he wanted to get back under the ropes to play the 18th, he would have had a difficult time doing so. A steady line of fans wanted not only to shake his hand but thank him.
Say one thing about the fans watching this Deutsche Bank Championship pro-am played out beneath vintage late-summer New England weather: They could tell the difference between a cultural hero and a real, live one.
“I had one guy tell me he’d rather have my autograph than Tiger Woods’,” Beatty said. “I told him, ‘You can’t be serious.’ ”
Yes, the fan was serious. And why shouldn’t he have been? Woods, whose father was a career military man, would echo that fan’s sentiments about Beatty, the real star in this pro-am.
Oh, better players were more plentiful on the TPC Boston stage, and CEOs and business leaders were at every turn of the head. But all of them – not to mention you, me, and millions of others – have nothing if not for the efforts of Beatty and his colleagues.
“We’ve forgotten who the real heroes are,” Ken Fisher said. “People who put their lives on the line, who stand up and do a job for our freedom.”
It was a day to be humbled, to meet perspective, to grasp the true meaning of words. On this day, and hopefully forever more, we were reminded that it doesn’t take courage to try and hit a golf ball from 217 yards over a hazard to a back-left hole location.
Good gracious, no.
Courage is riding in a Humvee in war-torn Iraq, knowing that your life is in danger, but your mission is clear. When the Humvee struck an anti-tank mine that November day five years ago, Beatty of the Army National Guard was the most badly hurt, his legs shattered.
If ever a man had the right to be bitter, it was this soldier from Statesville, N.C., his Purple Heart a testament to how much he sacrificed.
Yet minutes removed from a round of golf in front of thousands of spectators, he looked you in the eye, nodded to his prosthetics and smiled.
“I’m lucky,” he said.
Never have two smaller words stopped you like a 15-foot wall. Having nearly lost his life, having lost both of his legs, having spent months in a hospital and then many more in therapy . . . and he’s lucky?
“He’s an inspiration,” said David Raymond, a Boston College student.
One of more than 200 local caddies who were on hand for the annual DBC pro-am, Raymond arrived in a blanket of darkness and stood for 30 minutes in a fall-like chill.
“You get here to do a loop and never have any idea,” Raymond said. “But this was unbelievable, to see the drive he has.”
Though he played his junior year for the golf team at West Iredell High School in Statesville, Beatty never considered himself passionate about the game.
“It’s a hobby, for fun,” said his wife, Belinda.
More than anything, though, golf has become a vehicle for his message: There’s hope, even when you think your world has come crashing down.
“I’m an inspiration? I’ve heard that a lot, and I don’t take it for granted,” Beatty said.
Beatty – who runs his own nonprofit company (Purple Heart Homes) that helps provide housing assistance to qualified veterans – played in the pro-am as a way of generating attention for plans to build a Fisher House in the Boston area. Fisher House was started by the late Zachary House, a successful businessman who never was able to serve his country but always wanted to give back.
The Fisher House Foundation provides care and support to the families of servicemen who are confined to VA hospitals. “When I see Sergeant Beatty and know (his wife and boys) stayed in a Fisher House (near Walter Reed Army Medical Center), I get all choked up,” said Ken Fisher, who took over as chairman in 2002.
There are 43 homes nationwide. Boston would add to that list, and Beatty was thrilled to make an appearance to support the cause, even if at times it put on display a golf game that left him with a sour taste. He is, after all, competitive, so when Beatty sprayed a few tee balls wide, he frowned.
But when he went into the woods to assess his chances on one particular shot, he weighed his options. Risky recovery shot, he told himself. “Then I figured, how often to you get to play a TPC course? I’m going for it.”
He took a 7-iron and played it beautifully, a shot that elicited a large round of applause.
The thanks? They were there all day.