Golf celebrates, supports those who served

Quicken Loans-Military Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Golf celebrates, supports those who served

Golf

Golf celebrates, supports those who served

BETHESDA, Md. — The wall at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm started out as a clean slate each morning, but just a few hours later it would be transformed. Splashes of green and black Sharpie on Thursday looked almost like a camouflaged pattern from afar but upon closer inspection revealed touching, handwritten messages.

“You are a real hero!”

“Thank you for your bravery and love of our country!”

“Your service is never forgotten.”

Those words would hang on panels before spectators at the Quicken Loans National each day, before they were taken down and mailed to U.S. troops and USO centers around the world.

Those panels were just one example of a growing number of efforts across the sport of golf to recognize the military, through raising funds at tournaments, honoring active members at events and using the sport to help veterans rehabilitate.

Those efforts certainly did not go unnoticed by Billy Hurley III, the 2016 Quicken Loans champion. “From an honoring and highlighting and saluting the military, this is the flagship event, and that’s certainly something that has been near and dear to me obviously and one of the reasons that I love the event so much,” he said.

A 2004 graduate of the Naval Academy, Hurley went on to serve as an officer for five years, two of those in the Persian Gulf.

“Something that I take really seriously is honoring and really representing the military well on the PGA Tour,” said Hurley, wearing a bright yellow Navy visor.

The Quicken Loans National hosted a surprise military homecoming and a Shot for Heroes fundraiser, where spectators could golf while making a donation. Including the funds from this week’s tournament, the Shot for Heroes has raised $735,000 since 2015.

Across the PGA Tour, the Quicken Loans National is among a number of efforts to support active military and veterans.

But golf and the military overlap even at less competitive levels of play.

Ten days before the Quicken Loans began and 30 miles west, a number of veterans teed off at Lansdowne Golf Club.

The 10th annual Paralyzed Veterans Golf Open (PVGO), hosted by Agility, raised more than $469,000 for veterans employment and brought together a number of foundations working to help veterans.

Many veterans there were still taking orders.

Anthony Netto, founder of The Stand Up and Play Foundation and a military veteran, barked out commands and critiques as he scooted around.

“You’re too far away, and that’s why you’re closing your club at
the impact! Move closer. Move closer!”

A leader in the adaptive sports community, Netto coached the clinic for paralyzed golfers. He zipped from veteran to veteran in his own ParaGolfer, an adaptive motorized wheelchair that allows players to stand and have full golf swings.

Before the day ended, Agility and Stand Up and Play announced a partnership to donate two new ParaGolfers to Andrews Air Force Base and Fort Belvoir.

Twelve veterans were able to use ParaGolfers at the PVGO, enabling them to truly get the most out of golfing.

“I call it a billy goat, ’cause it goes up anything. You can go anywhere on the course that your able body could go,” said Bobby Fecteau, who served in the Army for eight years.

Though Fecteau grew up golfing, he was not sure if he would be able to return to the sport after breaking two cervical bones. But, like many other veterans, he has found that golfing helps him with his recovery.

“Golf is a very good sport for assisting with long-term rehabilitation. There’s little risk of injury,” said Steve Greiner, PGA executive director of Links to Freedom Golf Foundation.

“(It’s) good for coordination, good for balance, and you can do it for a lifetime.”

But for many veterans, golf is more than just a physical rehabilitation. They find solace on the course as they return home to new challenges.

“It’s a great defense against PTSD,” said Jabari Wright, who served eight years in the Army. He struggled with PTSD but has found relief during sunny days on serene courses.

Matthew Anderson, a retired Army captain and board member of The Salute to Military Golf Association, also noted golf’s benefits.

“PTSD is different for everyone. There’s lots of different triggers, but hard to find one in this game,” he said. “It’s a sport that’s calm by itself and a great way to decompress and work your way back into society.”

Quicken Loans-Kyle Stanley

Kyle Stanley hugs his caddie Bryan Reed after winning the first playoff hole to take the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Some veterans, though, are picking up golf for the first time. Frank Hatcher, who served in the Army for more than 29 years, had never played but was open to trying something new. After suffering a traumatic brain injury, Hatcher spends his days learning and relearning many things as he continues to adjust.

“It was sort of like taking a drop from an elevator. You used to be on the 15th floor, and now you’re on the third floor,” he said. “I still haven’t found all of my new normals.”

Not only is golf helpful for veterans on an individual level, but there are also a number of tournaments across the country that serve as fundraisers.

John Pray, president and CEO of Operation Homefront, finds communities coming to him, looking to organize events.

“We probably have between six to 10 golf tournaments that raise money for us every year,” he said. “[It’s] great communities doing great things for military families, through golf.”

Pray, who served in the Air Force for 27 years, works with the PGA Tour on Birdies for the Brave, a national military outreach initiative. Through programs such as this, military personnel receive complimentary and discounted tickets to different PGA Tour stops, including the Quicken Loans National.

Veterans at this year’s Quicken Loans National wouldn’t have a chance to see Hurley repeat his Tour victory as he finished 9 over par for the tournament. Instead, it was Kyle Stanley who signed the center of the panel reserved for the tournament champion. But many were just excited to see Hurley play.

As Hurley left the course after his final round to applause, John Dalton, who served as secretary of the Navy from 1993 to 1998, congratulated him.

Dalton emphasized how much it meant to see Hurley out competing. There are no other veterans on the PGA Tour.

“Hopefully I’ve spurred on more interest and spurred on just the belief that it can be done,” Hurley said.

For Hatcher and others who have found solace in golf, seeing veterans playing is empowering. Hatcher hopes to fully participate in the PVGO in 2018. The lesson he has received from the sport is clear.

“I have seen that I’m not alone,” he said. “I’m not by myself.”

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