At Their Service

By Rex HoggardJuly 1, 2009, 4:00 pm
AT&T NationalBETHESDA, Md. ' Tiger Woods was asked once what he would be doing if he wasnt collecting Grand Slam bottle caps and rewriting history books. The answer came without hesitation: hed be in the military, probably the Green Berets and more than likely on the front line of any conflict that would have him.
 
Its all part of the Woods lore by now. To prepare his son for his remarkable journey, Earl Woods armed the toddler with a golf club straight out of the highchair and the same steely resolve that guided Earl through two tours of duty as an U.S. Army Green Berets in Vietnam.
 
Tiger Woods and GySgt. Michael Barrett, USMC
GySgt. Michael Barrett, USMC poses with Tiger Woods Wednesday.(Getty Images)
Little surprise then that when plans were put in motion four years ago for Woods to assume a new role as host of a PGA Tour event that the military component was every bit as important to the world No. 1 as golf course or field size. You know, it hits home when you see one of them come out and to see what they're dealing with on a daily basis and what they have to go through because they're putting their lives on the line for us, and unfortunately have had something happen, Woods said.
 
Maybe the first sign things were going Army green at Congressional came when officials replaced traditional first-tee starters with military personnel and wounded veterans for the inaugural playing of the event in 2007. What followed surprised even Woods, whose expectations usually outpace reality.
 
We didnt have any idea what the outpouring was going to be like, said Greg McLaughlin, president of the Tiger Woods Foundation and AT&Ts tournament director. When we started three years ago with military starters on the first and 10th tee and its a telling reminder. When you look at an event it is literally the first thing everybody sees, the first tee, to have the soldiers up there is something that really resonates with the players.
 
The tournament provides 30,000 tickets to active and retired military personnel and has established a special tent to feed, for free, any servicemen or women who attend.
 
Perhaps the true measure of Woods commitment to the military was on display Wednesday when a group of about 50 Wounded Warriors made the trip to Congressional from nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Naval Medical Center.
 
Among that group were U.S. Army Major Ken Dwyer and Staff Sgt. Ramon Padilla, veterans who lost their left arms in combat in Iraq. They took up golf as therapy for their injuries. They kept playing because it showed them that their disabilities dont have to be liabilities.
 
Wounded Warriors, McLaughlin paused, theres not enough time to tell that story.
 
With Woods wedged between the two and a packed house huddled in around Congressionals first tee, no small amount of pressure, the two joined the high-profile host in hitting the ceremonial first tee shots for this years AT&T National.
 
The military in Washington, D.C., is such an integral part of the city and for us its been such a neat thing. Its a pleasure for us to do it, McLaughlin said. I think its pretty moving, particularly since we are at war.
 
NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown recently clipped Woods in the media for not using the full power of his celebrity to champion for more social change.
 
He is a killer, he will run over you, he will kick your ass, Brown said on HBOs Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. But as an individual for social change? Terrible. Terrible. Because he can get away with teaching kids to play golf, and that's his contribution. In the real world, I can't teach kids to play golf and that's my contribution, if I've got that kind of power.
 
Maybe if Brown would have been on the first tee Wednesday to watch Dwyer and Padilla hit drives of a lifetime, his opinion of Woods would be a little different.
 
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