Been There, Done That: Doug MacArthur’s Impact through PGA HOPE
By Matt Adams
Doug MacArthur, PGA, is a man seemingly at peace with the world and himself. Relaxed and self-effacing, he’s the consummate gentleman golf teacher. That’s especially true when he’s working with the disabled U.S. veterans under his tutelage in the PGA of America’s PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program.
When you meet MacArthur, you instinctively wonder what his secret is. What has he figured out that I haven’t? Well, the real secret is that for a long time the cool, put-together exterior was nothing but a façade.
Some 50 years ago when MacArthur came home from Vietnam, where he had led a combat engineering platoon in the U.S. Army’s 101 st Airborne Division, he took off his service uniform and put on a disguise. It was the same one that a lot of guys of his generation wore after returning from battlefields, a disguise that made it look, at least to casual observers, like they were doing alright despite the horrors they’d experienced.
“There wasn’t any transition,” MacArthur says when describing how he re-adjusted to civilian life. “There was nobody to talk to. I went years and never said a word to anybody that I was in Vietnam.”
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MacArthur doesn’t dwell on the past or waste energy on regrets, but he admits those post war years were tough on him and his family. It wasn’t until a 2008 reunion with members of his old platoon that he was able to assign a name to what he’d been experiencing.
“We were sitting there chatting and one guy said, ‘So how are you doing with your PTSD?’” recalls MacArthur. “I looked at him and said, ‘What’s that?’ For all those years I had just put my head down and went after life. It took a long time for it all to catch up with me.”
After learning about PTSD and how it affects veterans, MacArthur finally began treating his mental wounds. And it’s that personal work that led him to the work he does with PGA HOPE, driven by a desire to help others who are suffering like he was. “One of the things I do when I get in front of someone, I say, ‘Tell me about your experience.
Tell me where you’ve been, what you’ve done, how you’re doing with your family.’ And the veterans are willing to share. When I tell them about my background they know I have been there and done that, so when I ask questions they know I’m not asking from an investigation standpoint, but from a healing standpoint.”
In that regard, working with veterans in the PGA HOPE program is the same as giving golf instruction to anyone else. In MacArthur’s view teaching always begins with understanding the pupil’s mindset. The only difference with PGA HOPE is that the end goal isn’t merely shaving a few strokes off someone’s score; it’s about giving someone a reason to get outside, get active and interact with people who can empathize with his or her challenges.
To be sure, many of the veterans with whom MacArthur works have visible scars. With each of them he designs a tailor-made approach to golf, taking into consideration each person’s disabilities, making the game a fun experience for all. But those battling things like substance abuse, depression and PTSD need certain accommodations as well. To them MacArthur offers moral support and a listening ear on the course.
“There are the veterans who have tried to come back into the world, as we used to say, and maybe they got involved in alcohol or drugs, or maybe their lives or their families got broken in some way,” says MacArthur. “Most of them have never had a golf club in their hands. You’re dealing with some people who have had some real personal challenges. Now you’re reaching out and helping them and helping them enjoy the game of golf.”
When asked if something like PGA HOPE would have helped him all those years ago, MacArthur pauses and smiles. “It’s the old adage: I wish I knew then what I know now.” After that, his voice trails off.
Alas, it’s a question not worth pondering. There’s no going back, no re-writing history. All any of us have is the present. And Doug MacArthur is doing everything he can to make today a good one.