Golf course provides special place for veterans
In this moment, Jackson is simply another golfer. With a typical C-shaped whip swing, he cannons 300-yard drives down the middle of the fairway. Not bad at all.
His back story is what makes the drives amazing. The four times his vehicles were hit by roadside bombs in Iraq. The post traumatic stress disorder that clouds his thoughts. The medications he must swallow each day simply to function.
None of that matters here. When Jackson arrives at American Lake Veterans Golf Course'a haven for military veterans from World War II to Iraq that sits a short distance from Fort Lewis'Jackson is another hacker, trying to use his passion for smacking around a little white ball to help him cope with the aftermath of tours in Iraq.
Its really nice having a place to go out and not be looked at as being different than anybody else, said Jackson, who goes by Spc. Jackson when hes on base at Fort Lewis, working in the Warrior Transition Battalion. Ninety percent of the guys out here are wounded veterans from World War II all the way up to now. We all deal with similar limitations and just get out there and have fun.
The fact Jackson and his comrades have American Lake as a sanctuary is thanks to the yeomans work of some determined veterans, who wouldnt let the tree-lined course about an hour south of Seattle become a pasture when Congress cut funding to all military golf courses in 1995.
Nearly every veteran who walks onto the course has an ailment of some sort: an amputated limb; a noticeable limp; those who are blind and those who cannot walk.
Here, they can relax and make friends, sharing their military experience as a bond.
I prayed for death pretty much every day after I got out. I felt pretty much useless, said Dave Best, a veteran of the Iraq war who is now the operations manager at the course. Hes also the treasurer for Friends of American Lake, the nonprofit that handles fundraising for the course. (Then) I came out here to this support group.
Best and Jackson certainly arent alone in seeking help on the course.
Take, for example, Staff Sgt. Travis Spradlin.
Spradlin was hit in the shoulder by a sniper in Iraq in August 2007. For a time, he lapsed into a coma.
Now he has turned to golf as a coping mechanism in his recovery. Once nearly a scratch golfer right-handed, Spradlin was forced to switch to lefty because of his injuries'relearning all the basic muscle movement that once came so naturally. With help from Pepper Roberts, a soon to be 77-year-old who has helped the course survive and thrive, Spradlin quickly picked up the game from the opposite side.
It can be (hard). It all depends on the person, all depends on where they are in the continuum of healing, said Kristine Goedhard, program manager for Rehabilitation Care Services at VA Puget Sound Health Care System. Some youll find that if they were really good at something before an injury occurs, its really hard for them to try it if theyre not as good as they were before. Some are ready right away after an injury.
Spradlins reliance on golf as his therapy was evidenced on a recent Monday. After finding out he would no longer be on active duty during a midday meeting, Spradlin was back at the course that afternoon.
After my injuries and the severity of what its like to be in Iraq, and the day-to-day business of being over there, this is someplace we can come and play golf thats relaxing, Spradlin said. You dont have the high pressures of military life.
With the likes of course manager Mike Kearney working tirelessly, the course stayed open long enough for Roberts to arrive seven years ago.
Roberts was a former golf coach in the nearby Clover Park School District and Jim Smith, then the course manager, was a friend who asked Roberts to help with clinics and sit on the golf course board of directors. Smith promised it would take only one day a month.
That was the first lie he told me, Roberts cracked.
Roberts became the catalyst for a plethora of improvements at the course and many others in the planning stages. He was astonished the first time he came to American Lake and realized a course designated for military veterans was only accessible for the able-bodied.
I was always a little bit amazed that the only people that could play the course were those that could walk it. They had no carts, none of that stuff, Roberts said.
So he got to work, writing grants, seeking donations, helping to form the nonprofit corporation and asking for all the help he could garner.
Through the groups fundraising, the course acquired a handful of SoloRider golf carts that allow severely disabled, or even partially paralyzed golfers to still swing a club. The cart swings the seat and can physically support someone who otherwise couldnt stand themselves, allowing a chance to swing and putt.
The greens and bunkers of the course were redesigned or replanted, allowing the SoloRiders to be driven into the traps and onto the putting surface. A three-hole short-course was built within the driving range, keeping the nine-hole course open for the regular stream of vets that cycle through.
Pat Gailey, the course project manager, estimated that $360,000 worth of work has been donated by local contractors wanting to help out.
Its easier to get $8,000 or $10,000 worth of work donated than a check of $2,000, he said.
A covered driving range was constructed with stalls large enough to accommodate wheelchairs. Theres also an A-framed picnic area, and a new clubhouse is next on the docket.
The ultimate dream for those in charge is constructing another nine holes and creating an 18-hole complex. Rough sketches are already in place, courtesy of Jack Nicklaus design group'a favor that was called in.
Thats the benefit of having Ken Still, a former Ryder Cup teammate of Nicklaus and close friend, on the American Lake board.
There is a difference between having a cookie bake sale and the type of money well need to build it, Roberts said. I need a little bit bigger donations than the cookie sale.
Whatever American Lake becomes, the basic principle still remains fellowship and a different type of rehabilitation.
Maybe Russ Carlson tells it best. A Vietnam vet who lost his left leg, Carlson once attempted suicide'unable to handle the idea of becoming a civilian believing he was a freak. Now hes one of the first to greet every new face that walks onto the course property.
Things that Ive seen, I dont want it to happen to these guys, Carlson said. I dont think it would be fair to them. I think they deserve more than what the government is giving to them. So every little bit we do we try and help. Thats what were there for.
Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.
According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.
Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.
Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.
Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.
And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.
Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.