PGA of America providing military veterans with hope in the form of golf
Chris Nowak and his team are serving one of the most under-appreciated group of golfers in America
Golf is the most hopeful sport in the world.
If you've ever played, if you've ever flushed a long iron or chipped in from 20 yards off the green, the next great shot always feels like it's going to come next time you take the club back. It rarely does, but that never matters. What matters is the feeling you get when it does and how that sustains you until it happens again.
PGA Hope is the flagship military program of PGA Reach, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. Its stated intent is to introduce "veterans with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being" through golf.
Here's how it works. Active duty military can enter a 6-8 week golf program in which they are taught everything from the grip to etiquette by PGA professionals all over the country. Professionals are assigned no more than four students at a time for weekly lessons. At the end, everyone gets together for a 9-hole or 18-hole round and lunch or dinner together.
It's quite a deal.
"Our goal in this is to give the veteran a moment in time," PGA Hope Military & Veteran liaison Chris Nowak said. "When you play the game of golf, the one thing you need to be thinking about is striking the golf ball. If a veteran goes out and shoots 105, that's 105 moments in time that he wasn't thinking about his trauma or anything else like that. That's our goal in this, where they aren't thinking about anything else."
Nowak noted that though the program is only 6-8 weeks, many veterans stick around the courses where they learn the game and build relationships with their teachers as well as the sport itself.
"That's what makes working with the PGA so good," he said. "Once the professionals get bit by this bug, it's like when they first got bit by the golf bug. 'How do I do more? I want to do more.'"
It's not just the veterans who have grown because of PGA Hope.
In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote the following about hope.
"[But] those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man . . . and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope . . . can have a deadly effect. . . . Any attempt to restore a man's inner strength . . . had first to succeed in showing him some future goal."
These golfers all have a goal. All golfers do. But their goal is not the same as the goals of Justin Thomas or Dustin Johnson. That doesn't matter. All that matters is that they have something to strive for, something to chase after.
"This little thing is the most frustrating thing you've ever met," said one participant of the program in the video below, while holding up a golf ball. "But, when you hit it the right way, it's amazing."
He's not wrong. And that simple fact has given thousands of struggling vets what they need: Hope. When I asked Nowak what the most common thing he hears from veterans is, he laughed.
"Why didn't I start golf sooner?"
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