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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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”