FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — A field of 48 military veterans along with 12 PGA Professionals brandished golf clubs Monday morning while temperatures lingered in the 40s at Bethpage State Park. A stiff, damp Long Island wind slapped the face like a bad choice of aftershave.
It was the fourth annual PGA Secretary’s Cup happening on this gray day, and it was Team Charleston’s kind of weather.
Representing PGA HOPE Carolinas, the foursome of Bill Burge (U.S. Marine Corps); Jesse Duff (U.S. Coast Guard); Fred Gutierrez (U.S. Navy) and Doug Robertson (U.S. Army) blended across the branches of service. They had practiced in cold weather before, qualifying last November in driving rain and cold in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
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PGA Professional Perry Green, the PGA General Manager and Director of Instruction at The Golf Club at Wescott, was once again on the team as they surpassed a field featuring seven PGA Sections by posting a winning 5-under-par 31 in the scramble format. They navigated well on Bethpage State Park’s composite Red and Blue layout.
“They had fantastic cohesiveness,” said Green, a PGA HOPE (Helping Our Veterans Everywhere) program instructor since late 2014. “They needle each other so well. I felt my job was to keep them loose and they ended up playing very well.” Among the prizes at a ceremony were the first navy blue blazers to the winning team – each with red, white and blue lining. PGA Championship Honorary Ambassador David Wright, a seven-time New York Mets All-Star, helped the champions slip on their jackets.
“Our jackets are rarer than those at the Masters,” joked Green. “There are only five of ours out there now.”
The PGA Secretary’s Cup celebrates the PGA HOPE program and its partnership between the national Veteran’s Affairs office and PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America.
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Green said the PGA HOPE experience is “very personal.” He has a son who served in Baghdad as a combat medic during the height of the Iraq war, and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“What is being done in PGA HOPE is building camaraderie. The guys I’ve met will say, would you rather be sitting in a circle talking about the worst day of your lives or being outdoor on a golf course enjoying the green grass?”
Wright, who grew up in a military community of Norfolk, Virginia, whose grandfather was in the Navy and has a brother in the Texas National Guard, “To come out to spend time with you and talk golf and to meet many of you. The word extraordinary doesn’t do justice,” he said. “Thank you for your service, which allowed us our freedoms. Thank you for allowing me to go out there and played baseball for 15 years. And, I feel the golfers would feel the same way for what you did to allow them to enjoy being out here playing golf.”
Monday’s unique field of players also featured the first all-women’s team. PGA/LPGA Professional Judy Alvarez, the PGA Head Professional at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, New York, led a quintet that featured 58 ½ combined years of service. Among them was Ret. Lt. Navy Commander Amaryllis Olaschinde, a native of Brooklyn, New York.
She had never picked up a golf club until 18 months ago. She had endured far more than inclement weather. She had spent 28 of her 50 years on earth serving her country, including combat tours of Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. And, here she was at Bethpage State Park.
“I was invited and didn’t know what it was about,” said Olaschinde, who wanted to be in medicine and got more than her share as a registered nurse in the military. “I had not picked up a club in months and it was cold, my wrist was hurting, but I’m glad I could be here. If I had not joined an adaptive sports program, I would never had learned about PGA HOPE.”
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Olaschinde had suffered from PTSD, and she said, “was exposed to a lot, especially in Afghanistan.”
“When you’re walking from the hospital to the barracks and you have to get down on the ground and suck dust in because a rocket is coming. It was a lot, and all that I would see during that time,” she said.
PGA Championship General Chair Charles Robson announced during the ceremony a special gift to the PGA HOPE program in the host Metropolitan PGA Section. It was a statement from the Jordan Spieth Family Foundation:
The Jordan Spieth Family Foundation announced their support to PGA HOPE in a very tangible way through the Metropolitan PGA Section. One of the Foundation’s four mission pillars is to support our military men and woman, especially in their civilian lives. One of the long-term objectives of the PGA HOPE program is to extend Veteran’s access to the program year-round regardless of the weather and continue opportunities to build community through the game of golf.
A JSFF 2019 grant along with support from our partners at Full Swing Simulators allows PGA HOPE to move one step closer to that objective. This year, a Full Swing Simulator will be installed at the Northport VA Hospital located only 23 miles away from Bethpage. This simulator will allow countless Veterans to work on their game through the PGA HOPE program all year, and enjoy increased opportunities for growth, support and community
That statement, that gift and the smiles on a lot of faces capped a special day at Bethpage State Park.
For more information on PGA HOPE, visit PGAREACH.org.
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