Golf Opens a Whole New World for Veteran Sean Bowman
By Jay Coffin
There are days when Sean Bowman simply doesn’t feel like leaving his house.
On the outside, you see a perfectly healthy 42-year-old man who retired from the Navy two years ago, loves his two daughters and loves everything that golf has to offer.
On the inside, however, Bowman struggles with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, nerve damage, anxiety, neuropathy, multiple back problems and a traumatic brain injury that happened 13 years ago and stemmed from secondary blast exposure while being deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
In this setting he holds up his hands and notes that tremors can be so dreadful that oftentimes he struggles to merely put a golf ball on a tee. That condition was even more of an issue late in his Navy career when serving as a Hospital Corpsman where he would help patients by preparing IVs, applying sutures and delivering medicine.
“Nobody wants somebody coming near them with a needle who is doing that,” Bowman jokes in a moment of levity.
So, yes, it’s understandable if there are some days when Bowman just wants to be around the comfortable settings of his own home. And that’s OK.
But when those days do occur, Bowman’s buddies are the first to call and desperately attempt to shake him out of his funk. His core group of friends in the Chesapeake, Virginia area will call and call and call. They will not take no for an answer.
“They say ‘dude, it’s so beautiful outside, let’s go golfing. Get off your butt and get to the golf course,’” Bowman said. “We do that for each other and I think that’s very important to have. It’s a support group. We’re there to build each other up.”
The support. The camaraderie. They’re all reasons that led Bowman to take a look at the PGA HOPE program at Bide-A-Wee Golf Course in nearby Portsmouth. They’re also reasons why he was selected as one of 20 Ambassadors to participate in PGA HOPE National Golf and Wellness Week in Washington, D.C., hosted by Congressional Country Club. PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is a flagship military program of PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. PGA HOPE introduces golf to Veterans to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.
Bowman grew up in Schererville, Indiana in the northwest corner of the state. He recalls playing golf with his father as early as age 5. They would frequent the practice range together but Bowman had other interest and also migrated into playing baseball, basketball and hockey.
“I would always play golf here and there but never took it too seriously,” he says.
There was not much time to play golf during Bowman’s nearly 17-year Navy career. Besides, he’s an all-or-nothing kind of guy who either needs to play a lot, or just not much at all. He’s quick to point out that there is no middle ground with him.
“It’s hard to pick up a club once a month or once every three months because I won’t play well,” he says. “That’s too frustrating.”
That is no longer a worry.
“When I got out of the Navy I was lost not knowing what to do, where to do it,” Bowman said. “It’s a huge transition when you go from active duty to the civilian world. I found myself going to the golf course again.”
Bide-A-Wee Director of Golf and General Manager Adam Relan had known Bowman for a couple years and finally, earlier this year they happened to run into each other on the practice range and Relan told Bowman that he thought the course’s PGA HOPE program would be a good fit. Bowman took a peak, immediately loved the vibe and went through the two-month program, which ended May 24. Five months later he was picked to be an Ambassador and represent the Middle Atlantic PGA Section in Washington.
“I’m excited that he’s off and running,” Relan said. “This guy has a purpose and that’s what we all need. We need teammates. He’s helping grow the game and he’s helping vets at the same time. There’s nothing better.
“He’s an incredible person who has done a tremendous service for our country. It’s great to have someone like him help us spread the word.”
Bowman loves talking to others about the game and is not shy in noting that he usually plays as many as four rounds of golf each week. His core group attempts to play as many different golf courses as they can in Virginia. A game is seemingly always available.
“It’s been one of the best things I’ve done,” Bowman said. “I’ve made a ton of new golf buddies, my phone rings off the hook with people wanting to play. It’s giving me a sense of purpose again.
“When we’re playing, we don’t even keep score half the time. I want to hit a good shot as much as I want to see my buddy hit a good shot. I want to bring more people into this because I know what it’s done for me. If it worked for me I guarantee it’ll work for everybody else.”
Here in Washington the group is just an extension of what Bowman has found back home. Many of the 20 Ambassadors had never met before this week. A few days later, they’re far from strangers.
“We got along right from the beginning,” said John Harvey, an Air Force Communications Center Specialist from 1972-75, who was Bowman’s partner in a nine-hole event Friday at East Potomac Golf Links. “We made the connection and we’ll stay in contact from here on out.”
Said Bowman: “It opened a new world to me. I feel like I’ve known these people my whole life. There’s no awkwardness. There’s an immediate sense of belonging. Everyone is welcoming. There’s no doubt that these are friends for life.”
And those friends will all be standing at the ready, especially for days when Bowman may not feel like going outside.