Veteran Chris Runyan, PGA, Personifies Patriotism Through The Game of Golf
By Abigail Kasitz
“To be honest, I don't think I do anything special.”
Chris Runyan, PGA is right about a lot of things, but he is wrong about that.
Runyan, a Spokane native, Marine Corps veteran, GOLFTEC Coach and winner of the 2020 PGA of America Patriot Award has impacted the lives of hundreds.
With a mission that focuses on veterans and a heart that is related to their stories, Chris has made a massive difference in his community and Section. His story is one of resilience, dedication and passion.
“My dad taught me the game when I was three, and I played all the time. I knew golf was what I wanted to do, but I also wanted to serve in the military,” Chris shared. “So I joined the Marine Corps. My plan was to spend 20 years in the Marines, retire when I'm 45, and then pick up golf at that time.”
But life doesn’t always go according to plan. After serving three years in the Marine Corps and fighting injury, he was honorably discharged due to medical conditions. It affected him deeply.
“I became severely depressed,” he said. “So, I turned back to my original love: golf.”
Chris became an assistant professional and at the encouragement of his wife, became a PGA Professional, taking the head pro position at a local Spokane course, but he was still dealing with the fallout of his discharge.
“I never talked about being in the Marines, never hung anything on the wall, never had anything. You wouldn't have even known that I was in the military,” Chris said “But I was fortunate that that course had a lot of retired Vietnam veterans that played.”
“I met a retired special forces Army sniper from Vietnam. He told me to be proud of what I’d done for our country, even if it was only a short time. That’s when I began to open up about my background.”
But it wasn’t until Chris saw a video from the Wounded Warrior Project that things really began to click. The video depicted veterans struggling with mental health issues such as PTSD and depression, something he related to on a personal level.
And he decided to take action.
In 2011, he and Larry Trosper founded the Dan Kleckner Golf Classic, a tournament that has raised nearly $700,000 for local veteran-centered charity organizations in the Spokane area.
In 2013, he founded the adaptive golf program Vets on the Green, for what he described as “therapy”.
And in 2015, when Chris discovered PGA HOPE, he made it his mission to get as many members in his section involved as possible, encouraging more than 95 members to become adaptive golf certified through PGA HOPE programming.
“I started using the Dan Kleckner Golf Classic, Vets on the Green and PGA HOPE as rehabilitation tools,” Runyan said. “I've physically sat with veterans for hours on end just waiting for them to try hitting a few balls. Being outside, getting away from all the distractions is really helpful. The only thing you're focused on is the little white golf ball, not losing it, trying to find it, hitting it a certain distance.”
“I am doing this just because I think it's the right thing to do. These people need help. These people volunteer their time, give up their life at home for a couple of years to go over and fight, maybe die, for this country and the freedoms that we enjoy.”
Though Chris is quick to downplay the impact he’s had on the community, the effects are widespread and noticed by his peers and community.
So much so that he was nominated for and won the 2020 Patriot Award, which is awarded to a PGA Member that “personifies patriotism through the game of golf and demonstrates unwavering commitment and dedication to the men and women who have valiantly served and protected the United States of America.”
It could be argued that this description fits Chris Runyan almost perfectly. As he said in his own words:
“We owe everything to these people that have chosen to do that because without them, we wouldn't be doing what we're doing right now. So to think I've helped a lot of those people... it's unfathomable.”
Veterans Day (November 11th, 2021) will serve as the 5th Annual PGA National Day of HOPE. This nationwide Veterans celebration has two goals: Commemorate our nation’s heroes who protect our freedom, and raise awareness and support for PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), the signature military program for PGA REACH. For more information on PGA National Day of HOPE or to make a donation, visit PGAREACH.org.