Once Tony Taylor decided he was going to retire after eight years in the Marines, he had some time to contemplate his second career.
After playing his first round of golf on a military base course two years ago, he knew he wanted to include the game in his life moving forward, and eventually opted to include it in his choice of profession – golf course maintenance.
What the 31-year-old Myrtle Beach resident didn’t know until he left the Marines last July was how vital golf would become to his difficult readjustment to civilian life.
Taylor spent 14 months in Iraq, and has recognized that depression is a part of the new lives of many returning soldiers.
“It’s tough to come back and adjust to normal civilian life and act like nothing happened,” Taylor said. “The problem is there’s a negative connotation that goes along with what they call PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] for a lot of guys. … Nobody wants to be labeled with a mental illness or in need of mental therapy.
“But there are certain things that kind of help you escape the past, and golf was that for me. It just gave me something to focus on. It has helped me overcome a lot of emotional challenges.”
Equipment manufacturer Mizuno has taken notice.
The company has selected Taylor to take part in its “Play Famously” campaign. It solicited letters from players explaining how the game has helped them overcome a hardship through the online golf forum GolfWRX, which Taylor joined almost immediately after his first round.
He was chosen to be one of Mizuno’s first two representatives of an eventual dozen for its Team JPX – named after the JPX EZ game-improvement irons – from more than 1,000 submissions because of his characterization of how the game has benefitted him in his post-military life.
“I thought, ‘I’m the perfect candidate for this,’” Taylor said. “My whole life kind of revolves around golf at this point.”
The next two members of the average golfer team were named Friday and the remainder will be chosen through registration on Mizuno’s web site.
Taylor has signed a pro contract to represent Mizuno through September’s JPX Invitational for the 12 team members at the Country Club of the South in Atlanta.
He has already completed an advertising campaign shoot in Florida, participated in a custom club-fitting process and received a full set of clubs, staff bag, and “basically a year’s worth of clothing,” Taylor said. “It’s incredible that Mizuno … would treat the Average Joe like a pro.”
Few would consider Taylor an Average Joe.
The Mason, Ohio, native spent six years stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and was deployed overseas three times with his infantry battalion. “I wanted to do the greatest thing they had to offer, and that was the infantry,” said Taylor, who spent his final two years of service as a marksmanship trainer and reached the rank of sergeant.
He was decompressing from his deployments while in San Diego, and once he was introduced to golf, he immediately took to the game’s offerings of serenity and self-discipline.
“I thought, ‘This is it. I’m in a great, peaceful environment right now,’” Taylor said. “I just caught the bug at that moment.”
Taylor is intrigued by many aspects of the game.
He’s fascinated with the nuances of golf course design and the beauty of golf course landscapes.
He’s befuddled by the swing and difficulty of the game. “It piqued my curiosity and interest like, ‘How do I do this? Why can’t I do this right now?” said Taylor, who is about a 12 handicap. “I was terrible at it. You watch it on TV and it looks extremely simple.”
He’s become a student of the game’s history and rules. “I’m just overwhelmed by it and I want to know more about everything,” he said. “It’s never-ending really.”
He’s infatuated with club design and has become a golf club junkie. Taylor estimates he has gone through 20 drivers and 10 sets of irons through purchase or trade in two years. “I’d try different things thinking, ‘I can play better with these,’” said Taylor, who hadn’t been custom fit before Mizuno’s involvement.
He’s noticed the difference, but knows improvement will be a lifelong battle that he’s been trained to tackle. “You can’t win the game, you can only improve,” Taylor said. “You can’t be perfect at it.”
The depth of the game has consumed him, and that’s something that has helped him assimilate back into civilian life.
“It definitely helps him adjust to normal life as we all know it,” said Taylor’s wife, Jaimie. “The military conditions you a certain way, and when you get out you’re still conditioned that way but normal life isn’t like that.
“It has definitely made him a lot more patient. He’s not on the edge. It’s more of a peaceful escape for him. It helps him get out of his own head and gives him something positive to focus on.”
Taylor has found one of his greatest challenges is adjusting from constantly being on high alert in combat zones. “You’re on edge, you’re on high alert, and everything you’ve trained for in the military is in effect at that point,” Taylor said. “To come home it’s completely different. … Some people can’t adjust to driving down the street because the roads were sometimes filled with [improvised explosive devices] and a trash bag on the side of the road could take a whole day to drive by.”
Taylor has also found fellow golfers have helped replace the camaraderie he shared with his Marine brethren.
A new career
Taylor is using the GI Bill to attend Horry-Georgetown Technical College’s Golf & Sports Turf Management Program. It’s why he moved to Myrtle Beach following the completion of his military service last June after being stationed for approximately two years in San Diego.
His mother-in-law lives on the Strand, and Jaimie is a dental assistant who arranged for a job at Sawgrass Pediatric Dentistry that began last July. Taylor’s first semester of the associate’s degree program started in August, and the couple moved with their 2 ½-year-old daughter, Ryan.
“It all worked out perfectly,” said Taylor, who also has 10-year-old daughter Kylee from a past relationship. “I just wasn’t ready to go back to Ohio because of the weather, and I had been away from family for 8 ½ years almost, so to come home it would have been just a big homecoming and I don’t think I could have focused on life and getting back on my feet post-military.
“It’s kind of hard to get out of the military after eight years because you’ve kind of worked your way up the ladder so you are somebody in the military. Then to get out, you’re just kind of down at the bottom again, a peon at the bottom of the ladder and you have to climb your way back up.”
The golf course maintenance business is a natural transition for Taylor because of his newfound affinity for golf and longstanding appreciation for nature, dating back to working in landscaping and on a golf course as a teenager. “I loved the game of golf and I was already the outdoor, landscape and lawn maintenance kind of guy,” he said.
He works part-time Fridays through Sundays on the maintenance staff at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club. “I’ve never done anything halfway in life, so I found the most prestigious club around here,” Taylor said. “They have high standards and I want to know how to maintain the turf at the highest degree.”
Taylor is looking to work at a high-end course elsewhere this summer, and has interviewed at Sage Valley Country Club outside Augusta. He wants to learn from others and see the practices used on other forms of grass.
Dunes Club superintendent Steve Hamilton said he typically has two to five part-time workers and tries to make the majority of them HGTC students. “I try to get the pick of the litter of the students out there,” Hamilton said. “He’s not your typical college student. He’s definitely quite a bit more mature and his path is a little bit clearer. He’s got a clear vision of what he wants to happen and is taking the steps to get there sooner than later.”
Taylor is prepared for the long haul in course maintenance as he works his way to a superintendent position.
“I know the route is humbling, working for peanuts” he said. “But I knew what was going to happen getting out of the Marine Corps. . . . I’m aware it will take awhile and I don’t expect great things right away, but I will work my way to the top.
“… There’s no other place I’d rather be, honestly, than on a golf course.”