From the PGA
Folds of Honor, PGA of America Form Closer Relationship Ahead of Memorial Day Weekend
By Jeff Babineau
(L - R) PGA of America CEO, Seth Waugh, Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney, Jenn Stephens, Rickie Fowler
Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America, and Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, founder and CEO of Folds of Honor, are, by nature, problem solvers. They realized that confusion exists for those hoping to help veterans and support worthy patriotic causes. So the two organizations have galvanized closer than ever to better energize the efforts and potential of Patriot Golf Days, which fall across the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend (May 28-30).
Waugh likes to call it “making 1 plus 1 equal 3.”
The PGA of America has been there since the start for Folds, which this year expects to surpass 43,000 scholarships and $200 million raised for military families. When the PGA Championship last was in Tulsa in 2007, Rooney was a PGA professional and F-16 fighter pilot who had a dream to alleviate some of the incredible pain families endured after having loved ones killed or disabled in service. He came up with an idea: He would ease that pain, even if just a tiny bit, through educating the spouses and children of his fallen brothers and sisters in battle. This autumn the Folds expects to deliver 9,000 more scholarships.
Rooney started Patriot Golf Day (then singular) shortly after the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, just 20 minutes from where he makes his home. This week brings him full circle. He had a simple ask of golfers back then as he tried to get airborne: Tee it up over Labor Day Weekend, and when you do, add a dollar to your green fee to thank the less than 1 percent of U.S. citizens who put on a uniform each day to serve their country. Freedom isn’t free, Rooney often reminds, and Memorial Day Weekend, where Patriot Golf Days now reside, is not just the beginning to summer.
“There are 1.1 million veterans who have died for this country,” said Rooney, who flew three tours over Iraq, “and without Memorial Day, you don’t celebrate the other holidays.”
Waugh said the PGA HOPE program is something that is “personal” to him when he hears the stories of veterans and their many challenges. He is proud of the long-time relationship between 28,000 PGA Professionals and the Folds of Honor, pivotal in giving the organization an initial spark, and excited about the future and potential to grow this budding partnership with PGA HOPE.
HOPE stands for Helping Our Patriots Everywhere. There are members of the program – which asks PGA Professionals to introduce and teach golf to veterans – that will stand up and tell you that it has saved their life. HOPE is in 46 states with 7,500 participants, with the program targeted to reach 30,000 veterans by 2026. A bigger push to promote Patriot Golf Days, Waugh said, will help the PGA of America to raise dollars and expand its HOPE program. Right now, many veterans find HOPE through word of mouth; it’s luck. Waugh’s goal is for the PGA have more resources to find veteran candidates that could use help in getting their lives on track.
One such veteran greatly impacted by the program is retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Will Stockholm, 43, who served tours in West Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. His chiropractor in California asked him if he had ever heard about HOPE (he had not). Though Stockholm didn’t play much golf at the time, he did own a new set of clubs. He started a six-week golf clinic the next day, in May 2019. It had such an impact on him that later that year he was appointed an ambassador for the Northern California PGA Section’s HOPE program near home in Vacaville, Calif. He now he is employed by the organization. As veteran suicide rates continue to climb to highly troubling levels, Stockholm uses the vehicle of golf to help his military comrades transition back into civilian life.
Stockholm spent Monday morning participating in the PGA HOPE Secretary’s Cup held at the Club at Indian Springs in Broken Arrow, Okla., not far from where this week’s PGA Championship will be played at Southern Hills. He spent the afternoon out at Southern Hills, watching the world’s best players participate in a game that has given him and his family a more fulfilling life. (It was in an office above the family garage in Broken Arrow that Rooney started the Folds of Honor. Rooney likes to call that “synchronicity.”)
“It’s community,” Stockholm said when asked to describe PGA HOPE. “You find yourself amongst a group of others who are going through the same trials and tribulations as you are. As another good brother Marine of mine tells me, it’s fellowship. That’s what we need more of.
“Sitting in a clinic environment is great for what is designed, but we also need to express things in an outside environment, where it’s veteran to veteran. Someone who ‘gets’ it, just to say, ‘It’s OK. You’re just having a bad time, and it’s just a moment in time. It’s not for life.’ And the more you hear that, it gives you affirmation that you’re going to get through it.”
Rooney, a father of five daughters who feels blessed to do what he does, used to tape pictures of his Folds recipients on his refrigerator at home. But now that his recipients soon will surpass 43,000, he no longer is able to do that. He thanks a Higher Power when he speaks about how far he has traveled on his Folds journey, believing that he is far from alone in piloting this mission. He is confident about better days ahead for Patriot Golf Days, excited for the organization’s future.
“We all believed in something bigger than ourselves,” Rooney said. “That’s the humbing part of this.”
Rooney met Stockholm for the first time Monday after finishing his joint news conference with Waugh. The two talked about their service, and respective tours of duty, discovering they served in Iraq together at one juncture.
“I was over the top of you,” said the fighter pilot. “We were together over there, my friend.”
And now they are together again, in service, two men from two organizations united in purpose, sharing a common mission to help veterans and veteran families, some of whom have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Golf can seem a silly game, but Stockholm has come to see it can be a powerful force to opening doors and conversations.
“When you need to talk to someone, or you see someone in need, you reach out,” Stockholm said. “It’s no different than we did in our service, our time in. It’s awakening the spirit that we had, but because we’re out of element when we leave the service, you feel, ‘How do I fit in?’ Or, ‘How do I find me again?’
“For me, it’s mystical how golf really brings this out. You see a lot of veterans, including myself, they get a second wind of life.”
To find a course participating in Patriot Golf Days or to make a donation, visit patriotgolfdays.com; to learn more about PGA HOPE, go to PGAReach.org; and to learn more about the Folds Of Honor, visit foldsofhonor.org.