What’s Your Golf Story? By Matt Keel
Whenever I meet a new student, the first thing I do is ask the student about their golf story. Partly, I want to gather as much information about every student’s golf game to help them achieve their goals, but I’m also interested in hearing their story. Everyone has a golf story, and everyone’s story is unique. Your story may be about a hole-in-one, a tournament you won, an eagle or birdie you made, the time you broke 80, how you lowered your handicap, or how you never played a full round yet. Whatever the story, I always enjoy hearing them. In this article, I am going to focus on the story of three of my many students from the PGA Hope program I run at Wildfire Golf Club. PGA Hope is a program run through the PGA of America where we provide golf lessons to wounded veterans. Keep reading to learn the stories of these three courageous veterans.
The first story comes from Al Linde. Al is a veteran who is legally blind. Prior to losing his sight, Al loved playing golf, but thought those days were over. According to Al, after he lost his sight, he found himself living his life in a figurative box. After signing up for PGA Hope, Al bought new golf clubs and continued taking golf lessons. Now, Al is shooting in the mid 90’s and has been as low as #3 in his men’s club at a local golf course. When asked about the program, Al said “It’s enabled me to enjoy golf again and get competitive with it even against sighted players. Now I enjoy a level of independence again that I never thought I would.” Al has become sort of an unofficial spokesperson for the program after telling his story at the 2016 Southwest Section PGA Annual Meeting to over 500 PGA Professionals including the President of the PGA.
The next story is about Mike Leonard. Mike was wounded in combat and is now a below the knee double amputee. The first day I met Mike, he said to me that he had never played golf before, but wanted to “crush” the golf ball. Mike is a big guy. Most big men who want to crush the ball swing very hard with their upper body. Since Mike was new to golf, we built his swing from scratch and tailored his swing to his current physical situation. After seven sessions, Mike went out and bought his own clubs. Now Mike swings easy and outdrives most everyone in the program. According to Mike, the program has “enabled me to meet new friends and veterans that I would have never met. I’m now playing racquetball and golf with different groups of people outside the program.”
Finally, meet Jerry Newport. Prior to his injuries, Jerry was a twelve handicap golfer. Now according to Jerry, he has “more metal in his body than most people have in their car.” Jerry suffered a broken neck and now has two plates in his neck, 2 rods and 6 screws in his back, as well as two artificial hips. Jerry’s goal is to get back to the twelve handicap he once was and is well on his way. Jerry came to the program with a slice and very little distance. Now Jerry plays a beautiful draw and has almost the same distance he had before his injuries. According to Jerry “Because of the open door, I’ve been given the empowerment to get back to the goal of being a whole human being again. Golfing again brings together the spiritual, mental and athletic parts of my life.”
PGA Hope is a program that has helped transformed people’s lives, including my own. Working with these veterans makes me think twice before complaining about my sore knee or elbow. So what is your golf story? Everyone has a story which is unique to their situation. If you thought hard enough, you would be able to tell your story as well. I would love to hear your golf story no matter how big or small you may think it is. No matter how many stories I hear, I’m always surprised. I invite you to go to my website at http://mattkeelgolf.com/contact/ and send me an email about your story. If you tell me your story I will give you 20% off your next lesson. Any stories that are submitted will not be for publication, but will merely be for my own knowledge and education.
Matt Keel is the Director of Instructor at Wildfire Golf Club located at the JW Marriott at Desert Ridge. For any questions or information about golf lessons, email Matt at Mattkeel@pga.com or visit the website www.Mattkeelgolf.com.