On the Marine Corps' Birthday, The Story of How Golf Gave Veteran Matt Rogers Freedom
By Hayden Lewis, PGA
Matt Rogers has always been drawn to being a part of something bigger than himself, and right out of high school, he set his sights on enlisting in the military.
“I always kind of knew this was going to be my next step – this was the path for me. I just wanted to be a Marine,” says Matt.
Between 2009 and 2017, Matt would go on to serve two deployments in various roles with the United States Marine Corps. From engineer equipment mechanic where he organized logistics for his battalion to serving as a Marine Security Guard at three U.S. Embassies around the globe – Matt was living out what he always wanted.
After sustaining an injury during the last leg of his second deployment to the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, he returned to the United States and Camp Pendleton near Carlsbad, California in 2016. As he started down a lengthy recovery process, Matt was met with what many service members face coming off of active duty – the lingering question.
The uncertainty of many unknowns was his biggest mountain to climb. As he continued to settle into life after the Marine Corps, he earned his Masters Degree from the University of Southern California and started a family with his wife, whom he met during his service.
“I had this moment, or a crossroads if you will, of deciding what I wanted to do next after I got out,” explains Matt. “It was a lot to process all in a short amount of time and was honestly really overwhelming. I sort of fell back on what I loved growing up and, for me, that was sports. Due to the nature of my injury, golf became much more prominent in my life and something I could still enjoy.”
Golf continued to tap Matt on the shoulder and opened more doors. Over the next three years, Matt transitioned in and out of roles with the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA TOUR and the California Alliance for Golf – all which came as a surprise to Matt.
“I could have easily pursued a career with a construction or equipment management company because that was my background,” says Matt. “I had to go even further outside of my comfort zone to pursue what I really loved.”
These days you can find Matt at one of many golf facilities within the Southern California PGA Section as he completes his year-long PGA WORKS Fellowship. The PGA WORKS Fellowship is a strategic initiative designed by the PGA of America to provide an opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds and recent college graduates to experience a one-year, paid immersion in a PGA Section’s operations. This entry-level employment offers a taste of what a career in the golf industry can provide.
As the first Marine Corps Veteran to serve as a PGA WORKS Fellow in the Section, Matt’s gratitude for what the game can provide is hard for even him to put into words.
“Golf became part of me after my injury,” says Matt. “Even the simple things like getting outside became easier – golf gave me that freedom back and made things feel normal again.”
More personally, Matt says the game allows him to bond with his son in a way that means more to him than anything else.
“It’s just really special,” says Matt.
As one of the largest PGA Sections, Southern California houses one of the more robust junior programs in the country – reaching over 3,000 boys and girls of all skill levels and conducting more than 290 golf tournaments annually. Additionally, the Section is home to more than 1,700 PGA of America Golf Professionals.
“I take great pride in playing even a small part to grow the game for the next generations and serving the PGA Members who are highly dedicated individuals,” notes Matt. “It means a lot to give back to the Membership here and make sure they have what they need to be successful in their own careers – that’s fulfilling to me.”
Matt also connects his military background to his role by supporting the growth of PGA HOPE in the Section. Led by PGA Golf Professionals, PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is giving Veterans and active duty military the opportunity to learn and play the game of golf while finding a new sense of wellness and community.
“I say it all the time, golf is for everyone and PGA HOPE is proof of this,” says Matt. “If you're a Veteran, this is the program for you. I think the way I found golf can resonate with anyone, but especially with Veterans who are coming off of active duty because golf allows you to find a starting point.”
It’s clear just by listening to Matt how crucial community is for a Veteran. He says golf inherently provides that connecting point on different levels.
“By the end of a two-hour PGA HOPE session, you would think all twenty Veterans would have known each other for years. Seeing the program first-hand, golf becomes secondary pretty quickly.”
Taking his role a step further, and unique to the Southern California PGA Section, Matt gets to attend various golf and water summits to learn about the impact golf courses have on communities in California.
“It’s a very interesting position that golf has in this state,” notes Matt. “I get to put on my public affairs hat and take what I learned during my time with the California Alliance for Golf and layer it in with my position as a PGA WORKS Fellow. Getting to be that voice in the room for golf courses and PGA Golf Professionals helps make this experience all the more special to me.”
To Matt, it’s more about leaving behind that legacy of what golf is going to look like for his children and his grandchildren down the road.
When you ask Matt what he thinks comes next in his career, he would politely tell you that he just doesn’t think that way. “If you were to ask me this question five years ago, golf would not have been what I told you,” jokes Matt.
As genuine as they come, Matt has no problem staying true to himself and believes that’s why he is where he is today. He wants his story to be an invitation for not only Veterans, but anyone, to try something new and get out of their comfort zone. “I didn’t think any of this was possible,” notes Matt.
“The PGA WORKS Fellowship has given me an opportunity. It’s up to me to show up and work hard – in any job. If I can be an asset to a team I feel like the rest will take care of itself, and that’s great with me.”