United States Captain Corey Pavin called upon a friend, Major Dan Rooney, to address his team Tuesday evening as final preparations are being made for the 38th Ryder Cup.
Rooney, 37, a decorated F-16 fighter pilot and a PGA Professional from Broken Arrow, Okla., gave a moving speech in the team room at The Celtic Manor Resort.
"He is a great patriot, a very inspirational guy," Pavin said Wednesday during his third news conference of the week. "He's a golfer too and I just thought it would be neat to have him come over and talk.
"It wasn't so much a motivational speech per se but maybe about a little more awareness of what's happening around the world in a military sense, how team unity and accountability to each other is very important."
Rooney founded Patriot Golf Day in 2007 and the Folds of Honor Foundation, which directs scholarships from its national fundraising event to aid families of wounded or fallen heroes. His speech before a spellbound USA Team extended nearly an hour.
“I think the military awareness in the United States is probably at an all-time high,” said Pavin. “And I think people, certainly in the States, and over here, appreciate the military and what they do for our freedoms, and that's what that was good about.”
Pavin had met Rooney over the past few years and become friends.
“He’s an F-16 fighter pilot and he's a PGA of America Professional, as well. That's the only combination of that in the United States, oddly enough,” said Pavin. “Obviously he's a patriot. He's been awarded a few medals for his service to the United States. He’s a very inspirational guy, and he's just a great patriot.”
Pavin elaborated about his support of the military during his Ryder Cup debut in 1991.
“It was about supporting the troops in Desert Storm; not only the U.S. troops, but the troops from Great Britain and around the world,” said Pavin. “I think what the military does is amazing; to put your life on the line for what you believe and for the freedoms of other people, obviously it's the ultimate sacrifice to do that. And I think it's very worthwhile to recognize that.”
Team members said a message Rooney delivered included “watching one another’s back.”
“The stories of what people have to endure in war makes you sick,” said U.S. rookie Jeff Overton. “What I took away from a great time with Major Rooney was the sacrifices that they have to make for us. It was a very powerful and moving evening.”
“I had never heard of Patriot Golf Day, but I have now,” said Zach Johnson, who is making his second consecutive Ryder Cup appearance. “What Major Rooney said was very impressive. He was awesome. You could have heard a pin drop in the room.”
Ryder Cup rookie Rickie Fowler, who attended Oklahoma State University for two years, also got to know Major Rooney after being one of several Tour professionals who competed last May in the inaugural Patriot Cup at The Patriot in Owasso, Okla.
“I had heard some of the things that Major Rooney said in past events,” said Fowler. “He gave a great presentation once again. It was very special to see how those who had not known of him reacted.”
The power of Rooney’s message resonated as no other for Bubba Watson, also making his Ryder Cup debut.
“Well, sure, I cried; probably cry again if I'm not careful,” said Watson. “My dad was a military man. He was in Vietnam. He [Rooney] gave us a special present last night. It meant a lot. My dad is dying of cancer; he has the doctor saying that he has three months to live.
“I'm playing this for him and representing the United States and I more than likely am never going to be in the military unless they ask for our help. So, more than likely I am never going to be in the military, so this is the chance to be like my dad.”