Program teaches amputee vets the game of golf

By Associated PressOctober 22, 2009, 7:30 pm

ROCKVILLE, Md. – David Flowers knew his right leg was gone as soon as he stepped on the mine.

“I saw this leg come off,” he said. “It came up and flew over me and splattered me with blood everywhere.”

“And this one,” he added, pointing to his damaged left leg, “one bone was sticking out from the leg that way and one the other way, and everything was shredded.”

Flowers recalled the violent day while holding a golf club at the driving range on a gorgeous, peaceful autumn morning at Woodmont Country Club, not from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He has been at Walter Reed for six months, ever since triggering a booby trap while trying to clear a weapons cache in what he described as “a little crappy house” near Bagram, Afghanistan.

Flowers and about a half-dozen other amputee veterans from Walter Reed took swings at the driving range for about an hour, then played a couple of holes in the afternoon as part of a program called “First Swing.” Some of the veterans were returning to a game they love. Some were trying it for the first time. All had recently lost at least one limb while serving their country.

Flowers sat in a specially designed golf cart, called a SoloRider. Operated with hand controls, the cart's seat swiveled so that he could remain strapped in place while addressing the ball. The 29-year-old Army staff sergeant, who used to play four or five times a week back home in Diamondhead, Miss., was on a course for the first time since his injury.

“I can't get a full shoulder turn,” he said after hitting a ball about 100 yards downrange on one of his first attempts. “But it's not bad. I just don't have the distance, but other than that I'm making contact with the ball. I'm used to playing with some better clubs. It's not a big deal. I don't care what they give me, just as long as I'm hitting the ball. I'm extremely happy they let us come out here.”

The program is a joint undertaking by Disabled Sports USA, the National Amputee Golf Association and the military. The goal is to give veterans a break from endless stir-crazy days at Walter Reed, where it can be all too easy to sit in a room and play video games or succumb to self-pity and depression. Instead they are shown that sports are not off limits to amputees.

“Some are really motivated and want to go do everything in every sport,” said Kat Poster of Disabled Sports USA. “Others, it's very hard to get them out of the hospital. But what we find is we get them on one event, whether it's a day of golf or a week of skiing, they're hooked. They want to do more. If they can do one thing, they can do anything.”

Other programs allow Walter Reed veterans the chance to master kayaking, scuba diving and rock climbing, among other sports. Similar programs have been set up near other military bases and hospitals around the country. Veterans are encouraged to bring families along, with the goal of making sports an option for a family outing once they're done with rehab and are back in civilian life.

Gabriel Garcia, who brought his wife, brother and son to Woodmont, needed some persuading to give golf a try. A strong 27-year-old Army staff sergeant from Yuma, Ariz., he was into more physical sports before losing his right arm to a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

“I used to be a cage fighter. I used to do a lot of jujitsu. I used to compete in the army tournaments. I was the top guy at Fort Hood for my weight class. I was actually really good. That was my sport,” Garcia said. “Golf was never a thing I liked back in the day, but it's ’Go out here and have a good time.' It's what I'm going to be doing now. It's one of the sports I can do.”

Naturally right-hand, Garcia had to be convinced that he should play left-handed instead of trying to hold the club with his prosthetic right arm. He took several awkward swings, saying “This is weird” before finally making contact, topping the ball a short distance.

“Twenty yards. Pretty good,” he said with a smile to his family. “Lucky bounce.”

For inspiration, Garcia can look to his friend Ramon Padilla, a true success story. Padilla had never played golf before he arrived at Walter Reed in July 2007, having lost his left arm when a rocket-propelled grenade blew up next to him while returning from patrol in Afghanistan.

“At first I'm like, ’ ‘Are you crazy? I've only got one hand' or whatever,” Padilla said. “They encouraged me to go, so I went, and as soon as I hit my first good ball, one thing led to another, and next thing you know I'm out there hitting thousands of balls.”

Padilla played the back nine at Woodmont while the others were on the driving range. He birdied the par-5 No. 10, the hardest hole on the course, and feels he can shoot a score in the 80s.

He helped steady his club with an ingenious homemade apparatus attached to his prosthetic left arm, something he calls “the pinch hitter.” It's a piece of rubber attached to a huge ball bearing with a piece of a gasoline hose, and it gives him the flexibility to achieve something close to a standard two-handed golf swing. It was designed by several people, including his therapist and prosthetist.

“It's probably going to end up being a marketed thing,” he said.

The 34-year-old Padilla spent two years at Walter Reed and retired from the army last month. Originally from Los Angeles, he is making Maryland his home with his wife and four children and wants to devote himself full-time to helping other amputee veterans.

“I feel I've still got to educate, mentor and support the solders that are coming in behind me,” Padilla said. “That's actually my full-time job right now, golf as much as I can and take these guys out and show them how to network out here.”





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Watch: Tiger makes 6 birdies, 1 amazing par in Rd. 3

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 4:10 pm

Tiger Woods started the third round of The Open at even par, having made seven birdies and seven bogeys over the first 36 holes at Carnoustie.

Following three pars to start on Saturday, Woods went on a birdie binge.

No. 1 came with this putt at the par-4 fourth.

No. 2 with this two-putt at the par-5 sixth.

No. 3 thanks to this 30-footer at the par-4 ninth.

No. 4 after nearly jarring his approach shot on the par-4 10th.

No. 5 when he almost drove the green at the par-4 11th and two-putted, from just off the green, from 95 feet.

And No. 6, which gave him a share of the lead, came courtesy another two-putt at the par-5 14th.

Woods bogeyed the par-3 16th to drop out of the lead and almost dropped - at least - one more shot at the par-4 18th. But his tee shot got a lucky bounce and he turned his good fortune into a par.

Woods shot 5-under 66 and finished the day at 5 under par.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 21, 2018, 4:05 pm

Tiger Woods made six birdies and one bogey on Saturday for a 5-under 66 in the third round of The Open. We're tracking him as he vies for major No. 15.

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Rose's Saturday 64 matches Carnoustie Open record

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 1:03 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose needed to sink a 14-foot putt on the final hole Friday just to make the cut on the number at The Open.

Freewheeling when he came to the course Saturday, Rose tied the lowest score ever recorded in an Open at Carnoustie.

Entering the weekend nine shots off the lead, the world No. 3 carded a bogey-free, 7-under 64 to at least make things interesting. It won’t be known for several hours how many shots Rose will be behind, but his back-nine 30 gives him an opportunity, if the wind blows 25 mph Sunday as forecast, to challenge the leaders.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

After all, Paul Lawrie was 10 shots back entering the final round here in 1999.

“I think the birdie on 18 last night freed me up, and I’m just very happy to be out on this golf course and not down the road somewhere else this morning,” said Rose, who is at 4-under 209. “So that might have been part of the shift in mindset today. I had nothing to lose from that point of view.”

Rose’s 64 matched Steve Stricker and Richard Green’s record score at Carnoustie (2007).

It also was Rose’s career-low round in a major.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 12:20 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Saturday, Day 3 (Times ET)

4:30-7AM (Watch): Sunny skies and birdies were on the menu early in Round 3, as Justin Rose made his way around Carnoustie in 64 strokes. Click here or on the image below to watch.

Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)

8:20AM-3PM (Watch): As the skies cleared on Friday afternoon, defending champion Jordan Spieth made a run to try and regain the claret jug. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

1:30-8:20AM (Watch): On a rainy Friday morning at Carnoustie, Rory McIlroy shot 69 to reach 4 under, while Zach Johnson fired a 67 for the early lead. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter and Cameron Smith.

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.