Chat on plane led to founding of vets' group

By Al TaysMarch 14, 2015, 8:10 am

Fairways for Warriors was conceived five years ago on a flight to Fort Bragg, N.C. Tom Underdown was sitting next to a sergeant on leave from Afghanistan, listening to the soldier talk about two comrades who had lost limbs.

Underdown had never been a soldier himself, but with both parents in the military, he had grown up at various Army bases in Germany and the United States. He knew the deadly toll that life in uniform could extract.

“My father served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” Underdown, 64, said recently. “I saw what post-traumatic stress did to him and his family. It was horrible, what he went through. He did what I call slow suicide - he drank and smoked himself to death.”

Underdown had gone into information technology, continuing his family’s military connection by having the Department of Defense as his sole client. But as he listened to the sergeant talk, business was the furthest thing from his mind.

 “I don’t know why,” Underdown said, “I just felt like I needed to do something.” He persuaded some friends to visit one of the wounded soldiers. He called the mother of the other one. “I said, ‘I don’t know why I’m calling, but I just want to let you know that somebody cares. Is there anything I can do for your son?’”


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“She said all he ever wanted to be was a soldier – ‘I know he’s going to be OK physically, but he’s never going to be OK mentally. He’s always going to have issues.’

“That really resonated with me. I found a program called Operation Warrior Golf at Fort Bragg that was started by a college student, Gretchen McClean. I got involved in that and I said if she can do that at Fort Bragg, why can’t I do that in Orlando? So I got some friends together and we launched Fairways for Warriors.

Today, Fairways for Warriors has expanded to four chapters – Orlando and Jacksonville in Florida, plus San Antonio, Texas, and Newport, R.I. Underdown is working to create a golf facility for the Orlando chapter, and hopes that eventually every chapter will have its own Warrior Golf Club.

“It’s been humbling,” Underdown said. “We’ve had probably well over 200 combat vets come through our program in Orlando, not including family members. I used to have to go out and generate interest in our program. Now I get word of mouth. I get at least three or four e-mails or phone calls every single week from people hearing about our program and wanting to be part of it.”


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“We are lucky to have Tom Underdown,” said Navy veteran Luis Lorenzana. “Words cannot describe how amazing his soul is.  Our society needs a Tom Underdown to understand what selfless acts are all about and what sacrifice really means.”

Fairways for Warriors’ mission is “providing hope, healing and camaraderie for combat wounded warriors and their families.”

“When a young guy goes into the military,” Underdown said, “he has a support infrastructure, he’s got his buddies, he’s got a unit, he’s got a first sergeant. He goes over to combat, he’s got a battle buddy. He knows this guy has his back. He gets injured, he gets medically discharged and he’s left out there all by himself.

“When you get out of the military, especially if you’ve been injured in combat, you don’t feel comfortable around civilians. They just don’t understand. Other combat warriors understand what you’re going through.”

Returning veterans “isolate themselves, they lose hope, they’re angry, they’re not sure what to do with their lives, and they drink and think too much. This program gives them that camaraderie that they had in the military, gives them hope and helps them heal.”

Juan Velazquez is a former combat engineer who did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and came home with - among other wounds - a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. “I couldn’t even socialize,” he said. “For the first few weeks, even the first few months, I was a quiet guy, I was separate from everybody. I didn’t want to hear any stories, I didn’t want to tell any stories about me. And now it’s gotten to the point where I can socialize because I feel at home.”

Golf is an effective vehicle for healing because of the game’s social aspect and the concentration it demands

“It helps you focus, focus on the ball,” Velazquez said. “It’s a repeated motion that you’ve got to practice all the time. And it’s fun. It gets frustrating - don’t get me wrong, I do get angry a lot of times, but just one shot can change everything.”

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Fairways for Warriors members Juan Velazquez (l), Jack Wiseman

“I believe it helps stimulate the brain, the thoughts, the soul to focus on the challenge of getting that small white ball into a small white cup up to 500 yards away,” said Lorenzana, who deals with constant pain from two unsuccessful lower-back surgeries. “The frustration of living with disabilities was given a new meaning when I started playing golf.  What seemed impossible on the first tee looking down at the barely visible flag about 487 yards away on my first day of golf ever, now seems exhilarating.  I can overcome anything.  I can learn to adapt to my surroundings, be it life or fairways and bunkers.”

“It’s not just the physical and mental healing, it’s also spiritual,” said Robert “BJ” Jackson, a former member of the Iowa Army National Guard who lost both legs below the knee to a land mine in Baghdad. “It’s getting together, the camaraderie. The fellowship is the biggest part. Golf is an added bonus.”

Jackson met Underdown after moving to Florida in 2011. He became involved in Fairways for Warriors, “but once he told me the golf course idea, I had to step up a little. He thought about a friend, Chad Pfeifer, a veteran who lost a leg in Iraq, took up golf as part of his rehabilitation and became good enough to pursue becoming the first amputee to play on the PGA Tour. (Pfeifer, who was profiled by GolfChannel.com in December 2012, is one of the contestants on the current Golf Channel series, “Big Break: The Palm Beaches, Florida.”)

Jackson took to heart a message he got in a fortune cookie: “He who is afraid of doing too much, does too little." “So I stuck it in my wallet as a reminder and started asking Tom what I can do to help.”

Jackson appreciates the fact that Fairways for Warriors includes older veterans – “guys that came home to nothing and were treated horribly, that paved the way for men and women today to be treated like heros. We owe them to be better and also to recognize their sacrifice and service,” he said. “They are great mentors and friends to this era’s veterans.”

Jack Wiseman, an Army veteran who lost his left arm in Vietnam, is grateful for the opportunity to help. “For us older vets,” he said, “to help these guys out and give them something we never had when we come home, it fills my heart just to be able to be here and do whatever we can do.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.