Military honored at pro golf tourney founded by Tiger Woods
By CARLOS BONGIOANNI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 27, 2013
BETHESDA, Md. – As 90 or so sweltering degrees of heat beat down upon him, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Laux was basking in the joy of playing caddie for the pros.
It was like “icing on the cake,” Laux said of the opportunity to hob-knob, if not sweat, with the pros.
Laux, a member of the Wounded Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir, Va., was one of 26 servicemembers who volunteered to caddie during a Pro-Am competition at Bethesda’s prestigious Congressional Country Club. The Pro-Am was a practice round leading up to the main AT&T National Golf Tournament, a PGA tour event that began Thursday and runs through Sunday.
Members of the U.S. military were the special guests of honor Wednesday during opening ceremonies at the country club. Besides the military caddies positioned on the 17th green, there were military personnel at the 1st and 10th greens announcing the players as each group stepped up for their tee time.
Tiger Woods – whose father was an Army veteran who served as a Special Forces soldier – was instrumental in founding the annual AT&T National in 2007 and made it a major goal of his to show appreciation to the nation’s war fighters. At Wednesday’s ceremony, Woods told how he “grew up on a military golf course.
“That’s how I learned to play golf. For me to have a golf tournament in the D.C. area, it’s only right to be able to honor the great men and women who serve our great country and do what they do. It’s a thankless act, and they put their lives on the line every time they go down range…. We really do owe our freedom to all their hard work and sacrifices… in leaving their families for months at a time. They come back with debilitating injuries, and sometimes they don’t come back at all.”
After Woods spoke, he placed tees and balls for two wounded troops, Army Cpl. Chad Pfeifer and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dave Romanowsky, who stepped up on their prosthetic limbs and hit the ceremonial opening shots for the tournament.
Over the course of the tournament, which ends Sunday, thousands of people affiliated with the Department of Defense are expected to be in attendance on any given day. Some 30,000 complimentary tickets were made available to DOD personnel in the D.C. area thanks to contributions from Lockheed Martin.
“We have a big commitment to the military, and we're proud to support those who support us,” said Emily Simone, director of community relations for Lockheed Martin. “It’s a way for us to show the troops and veterans how much we honor and respect their service to our nation.”
Simone says Lockheed Martin doesn’t disclose how much they spend to underwrite the military sponsorship at events like the AT&T National, but she conceded it is one of the “significant grants” that they offer throughout the year.
In addition to the 30,000 complimentary tickets, Lockheed Martin also helped underwrite the cost for a military pavilion situated at the end of the 17th green. The air-conditioned space is stocked with free cold drinks and snacks for those who need a respite from the heat and a place to rest.
Navy Capt. Mike Coughlin, his wife Emiko and their two children Matthew, 11, and Daniel, 9, were among those enjoying the comforts of the pavilion on Wednesday.
“It’s a great day,” beamed Coughlin as he looked out the pavilion’s huge window overlooking the 17hole. “It’s a beautiful course, and it’s a great way to see the players and watch the professionals as well as the amateurs play.”
Coughlin also appreciated the “awesome” respite from the heat that the facility afforded his family.
Across from the military caddies’ post at the 17th, a USO tent that Lockheed Martin also hosted, allowed tour goers to assemble care packages for troops down range.
Cathy Martens, the USO’s vice president of corporate alliances, noted that USO care packages are stuffed with simple items that troops find useful as they deploy down range. She said that since 2009, more than 30,000 packages have been stuffed at the AT&T National event alone. She said organizers hope to have 7,500 packages stuffed this year.
Kay Kapoor, president of AT&T Federal, said her company provided 5,000 prepaid calling cards to be stuffed in the care packages to be sent overseas.
“AT&T has long supported active duty personnel, their families, reservists and veterans,” said Kapoor. “Military veterans make outstanding private sector employees. We know that first hand. Thousands have made their careers at our company. And we recently committed to hiring thousands more. “
During Wednesday’s opening ceremony, Woods sat among dozens of wounded veterans, including quadruple amputee Brendan Marrocco, who first met Woods during the 2009 AT&T National.
David Feherty, co-founder of the Troops First Foundation, recalled how “stumpy Marrocco,” as he called him, dropped the ball Woods gave him after winning the 2009 event by one stroke.
Feherty, speaking with a distinguishable Irish brogue, let the crowd know it was OK to laugh.
“I said to him, ‘Dude, Tiger Woods gave you a ball. He doesn’t do that. And you dropped it?’
“He said, ‘I haven’t any arms,’
“I said, ‘That’s no excuse.’ ”
Feherty spoke Wednesday after receiving the Tiger Woods Foundation and AT&T National’s 2013 Military Charity of the Year award during the opening ceremony. The award honored Feherty for the work his foundation is doing to help wounded warriors regain their dignity and reintegrate into the civilian world.
Feherty wasn’t the only speaker to employ humor when talking about the wounded.
Marine Staff Sgt. Glen Silva, told how he was sent flying into the air after stepping on an IED on Oct. 12, 2010. He then detailed the severity of his injuries: left leg amputated above the knee, right leg damaged by shrapnel and burns, reproductive organs and lower part of stomach lost, both lungs popped from inside out, body split open all the way to sternum, left forearm and left hand shredded to the bone, both ear drums popped and most of his teeth shattered, mild to moderate traumatic brain injury.
“I tell everyone that I went to Afghanistan, and I had a blast,” Silva joked. He then urged spectators to engage with servicemembers during the tournament. And don’t shy away from those missing a leg or some other limb, he said.
“You’ll be amazed to find out that we can actually hold a conversation. You might not like our jokes… Some people might laugh, others will be appalled, but it’s laughter after all that’s the best cure over anything.”
Being at the tournament, Silva said, is an opportunity for servicemembers, business leaders and other spectators to interact. So he concluded, “Engage in conversation and build those relationships with those servicemembers that have served our country.”