While professional golfers with the PGA often take to the links at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, a different type of golfer ruled the course Monday morning. Veterans attempted to lure other former military men and women to the game to help their mental health and combat PTSD.
It’s through a program called PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere).
“We use golf as a modality to help veterans recover from whatever they’re dealing with,” said PGA of America military and veteran liaison Chris Nowak. “If we can get a veteran to have that experience while playing golf, goes out and shoots 118. That’s 118 moments in time that that veteran wasn’t reliving, or thinking about the trauma that he deals with and struggles with every day.”
PGA HOPE will put over 10,000 veterans through a six-week program this year across the country. Twenty ambassadors went through a week of training and will bring back what they learned to vets in their area who want to play 18.
“We go over public speaking with them. We have a social media class along with our mental health class and then we golf … doesn’t get any better,” said Nowak, who lost his leg during his Marine service and turned to golf during the healing process.
PGA HOPE is the only golf program that partners with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Medical staff there can refer veterans to PGA HOPE as a form of therapy. All programs are funded by PGA and its partners, with no cost to all veterans.
One of the veteran ambassadors that played a final “shamble” tournament on Monday at Congressional Country Club is Keniel Martinez.
He called it “a dream come true.”
“You know, I’ve only driven by a number of times, never thought I will get to play here,” Martinez told WTOP. “So I’m definitely going to enjoy today.”
He served in the Army for 12 years and got into a motorcycle accident shortly after he left the service. That’s when he turned to the greatest game.
“It allows you to free your mind, because when you’re on the golf course, you know, you can let go of so many emotions, so many stressors that are going on, and just enjoy the game and create, you know, long lasting memories,” Martinez said.
Don Rea is the vice president of the PGA of America and owner of Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona
“They’re hitting the ball a little bit better, they’re spending more time with their veterans. And that’s why it cuts down that suicide rate,” Rea said. “When you tell me that over 20 veterans a day killed themselves. But what this program is doing, is working. The data proves it. When they get out of the house, and they get some purpose in their life, even if it’s to hit a better shot, they feel better.”