Game Changers

The Gift of HOPE: How Golf Helped Veteran Garret Hrynko Find a New Purpose

By Jay Coffin
Published on

Garret Hrynko was serving in Afghanistan seven years ago when he devised what many of his Army brothers believed was an impossible mission. As part of a Quick Reaction Force with the 2nd Battalion 14th Infantry Regiment, Hrynko, only 20 at the time, decided that when he returned to the States he was going to ride a bike across the country and help raise money and awareness for Mission 22, which provides support to Veterans through an extensive outreach program.
Sixty-five days, 4,200 miles. From Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia.
In May 2017, a year after Hrynko returned from Afghanistan, he set out to accomplish his lofty goal. Sixty-five days later, just as he had planned, Hrynko finished the feat.
It was a joyous occasion. Friends and family were in awe. But Hrynko was not well.
“I was so gung-ho on trying to help as many people as I could, when I was the one who needed the help the most,” Hrynko admits.
Hrynko, now 27 and living in Newtown, Pennsylvania, is one of 20 Ambassadors chosen 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.
Back in 2015, Hrynko was going through some extreme difficulties. On one fateful night, Kyle Gilbert, one of the first people Hrynko met when he joined the Army just out of high school, was killed in Afghanistan. That was September 21, a day Hrynko will never forget and one that changed him forever.
He started drinking and became an alcoholic. He believed it was the only thing that could get him through the pain of losing one of his best friends.
“I shut down,” Hrynko says. “I think a lot of guys were picking up on how much it had affected me, but I was so far gone emotionally by that point.”
Six months later, Hrynko returned home and left active duty. That was eight days before his 21st birthday.
“That’s when the emotions hit you twice as hard,” he said. “I didn’t realize how dark of a place I had fallen into.”
Nothing mattered. Nothing excited him. There was no purpose.
Hrynko trained for and completed his cycling task in which he averaged riding 75 miles a day. He joined the U.S. Army Reserve in 2018 and became a Counterintelligence Special Agent. Neither was enough. Neither was fulfilling. He left the Reserves in 2020 and then hit rock bottom.
In February of 2020, Hrynko got drunk alone and started excessively cutting both of his forearms. He doesn’t remember the exact details of what happened next but somehow he was able to get to a friend’s house, who then took him to the emergency room. Hrynko is quick to point out that he did not clip the radial artery in either arm or the night would’ve ended differently.
“I was missing a purpose in life,” he said. “I was a part of this great culture, and connected with so many amazing people, then just like that, at the drop of a hat all that was gone. I just felt lost. Even getting into the Reserves it just wasn’t the same high tempo I was used to from active duty.”
It took some time to figure out a path forward, but eventually Hrynko started meeting with a therapist twice a week. Shortly thereafter he landed a job at TPC Jasna Polana in Princeton, New Jersey, with the help of Head Golf Professional Brian Parcel. 
Hrynko can remember playing golf when he was as young as 7, but he lost touch with the game into his teens. The new gig at Jasna Polana scratched an itch and Hrynko could tell immediately that he had contracted the golf bug.
That golf addiction helped nudge Hrynko to participate in other Veteran organizations but ultimately he ended up with PGA HOPE at Fiddlers Elbow Country Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. He participated in weekly clinics and eventually the operation moved to Inspiration Golf Range in Lyons, which is near a VA Medical Center. 
“HOPE gave me a new purpose,” he says. “I finally have something I’m 100 percent ready to commit to again, akin to when I was active duty. It’s a nice little full-circle thing that’s come to be.”
Hrynko married his wife Chrissy on May 10 this year and just three days ago he turned in his final paper required to earn Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Arizona. This coming from a kid who held a 1.6 grade point average in high school and joined the military only because he didn’t feel like he had any other options.
Starting at the beginning of 2023 Hrynko will work for Marsh McClennan Agency in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania where, after he’s properly trained, he will be tasked with speaking to various business executives and offering health care plans that will be more beneficial for both the company and its employees. 
Everything is going well for Hrynko – he’s 647 days sober, newly married, about to graduate from college, caddies at a couple Philadelphia area clubs on the side and has a steady job waiting for him in a couple months.
But golf is still a major passion in his life. It’s where Hrynko knows that he can make a difference, something he was not capable of doing just two short years ago. 
“Right now, golf is my therapy, it’s my social group and it’s my happy place,” he says proudly. “It’s become a tool that I know I can utilize to help anybody. Even if they’ve never played before. There’s nothing you can’t learn about someone on a golf course.
“There’s so much more to the game. I got into it for my own selfish reasons and I’m just now realizing how much golf can be used as a tool to help people.”
Hrynko has gone through a lot in his 27 years on this Earth and has come a long way in the past two, but he still isn’t quite to the point yet of patting himself on the back for his achievements. He knows there is so much work left to be done.
Perhaps when he returns from the festivities this week in the nation’s capital he’ll take a few moments to reflect on his journey. But if so, it won’t be for very long.
There’s more to do. More golf to be played. More people to help.
“We don’t think we deserve all of these nice things that are offered to us,” he said, before offering one final plea for Veterans to reach out and join him and his PGA HOPE brothers and sisters. “You are more than enough and you are worthy of being a part of this with us.
“HOPE only costs you your time, but what you can take out of it is priceless.”
Hrynko is living proof of that.