18Birdies provides pair of soldiers with dream experience at Bay Hill

18Birdies provides pair of soldiers with dream experience at Bay Hill

Golf

18Birdies provides pair of soldiers with dream experience at Bay Hill

ORLANDO – Bill Deakins and Brock Southwood aren’t related by blood, but they are as close to brothers as two friends can be. Nearly 10 years ago they decided to join the Army on the same day. Two months after that they were both in Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training.

They also picked up golf at the same time, when Deakins was 18 years old and Southwood was 16. Using Deakins’ father’s clubs, the two started by hitting balls at a tractor tire.

“Basically we had no idea what we were doing when we first started,” Southwood said. “… We spent a lot of time trying to hit that tractor tire.”

There were no tractor tires to be found this week at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, where Deakins and Southwood shared their best golf memory yet. Thanks to 18Birdies’ DreamGames rewards program, Deakins, 30 and on active duty in Cleveland, won the chance to compete in Wednesday’s pro-am at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Southwood, a 27-year-old reservist who lives in San Diego, was his caddie.

“Mind-blowing,” Deakins said after completing 18 holes alongside PGA Tour pro Ollie Schniederjans. “I don’t have any words anymore.”

DreamGames users can earn virtual currency, called Golf Bucks, by playing rounds, side games or completing post-round courses ratings on the 18Birdies app. Golf Bucks can be redeemed for digital scratch cards that give users chances to win thousands of monthly prizes, including clubs, balls and cash prizes.

This year 18Birdies will give away trips to all four majors in 2019 through DreamGames, much like it did last year by selecting 12 winners to compete in the API pro-am.

Last summer Southwood had just gotten back from nine months stationed at Guantanamo Bay when he and Deakins were watching Golf Channel and an 18Birdies commercial promoting DreamGames came on. The promotion was a chance to play a round with 18Birdies ambassador Paige Spiranac.

“I was like, ‘I’m in,'” Deakins said. “I did not win that, but we were golfing three or four times a week when (Southwood) was on dwell time, just using the heck out of the app.”

The Golf Bucks piled up, and two weeks later Deakins got word that he had won a pro-am spot at the 2018 API. Back in October 2016, Southwood took Deakins to Games 4 and 5 of the World Series at Wrigley Field. (Both are die-hard Chicago Cubs fans.)

Deakins returned the favor by asking Southwood to caddie for him.

Their “dream week” at Bay Hill included dinner at a local steakhouse with the other DreamGames winners, a lesson with instructor Travis Fulton at Orange County National and an invitation to the Tuesday night pro-am draw party.

But the best party was Wednesday. While he was warming up before his round, Deakins had about 25 balls left on the range when a volunteer asked if he could move. Tiger Woods was about to hit some balls.

“They bumped us off the range, but we were cool with it because we got a front-row seat,” Southwood said. (The pair also got to meet Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who was also competing in the pro-am.)

Southwood (left) and Deakins with Ben Roethlisberger (middle)

On the course Deakins played solidly, even making a few birdies. When he birdied the par-3 14th hole, Deakins “Spieth’d” Southwood by telling him, “Go get that!”

After the round, Deakins and Southwood understandably didn’t want the experience to end. Luckily, they’ll have tickets for the rest of the week to watch the action.

“You always hear about these sweepstakes that everybody gives away but you never really see the winners,” Southwood said. “18Birdies has actually shown us, put us out there on social media, trying to get more people to play golf, and I just think this is a great movement to try and do that.”

Deakins and Southwood will continue to play as much golf as they can. More golf means more Golf Bucks and a chance to win another “mind-blowing” experience.

 

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