Flying back from Florida last week I stumbled into an amazing person. We literally fell against one another as we were boarding the plane. I was limping toward my seat and he was doing the same heading for the seat next to me. My condition is temporary; he’d been living with his disability since he was twenty years old and left for dead in Vietnam.

 Jon Hovde was missing his right arm and leg but not his smile and zest for life. We chatted for awhile and I forgot how tired I was. The northern Minnesota native told me bits and pieces but promised he’d send me his recent book Left for Dead: A Second Life after Vietnam. It’s waiting for me in Florida and the first I’ll read after surgery.

Throughout Thanksgiving week I couldn’t stop thinking about Jon and all the special folks I’ve met during my 22 years on the PGA Tour. Of course, there have been a bunch of celebrities, famous politicians, corporate CEO’s and sports heroes, they are not who I’m talking about.

Our amateur partner in San Diego in 1991 who only had one arm and continually made fun of himself during the round was a very special person. In Atlanta, Murph and I played with an elderly gentleman who was legally blind but kept us laughing the entire 18 holes. Then, he made par on the final three holes, had a stroke on each hole, and helped his team win the pro-am. We went on to win the tournament but celebrating his win was more enjoyable.

There are numerous volunteers who sacrifice a major portion of their year helping with the tournaments and never utter a complaint. Many volunteers are cancer survivors who have used golf as their recovery vehicle and listening to their stories places our on course troubles on the back burner. This fall two of our walking scorers were recently declared cancer free, and as they shared their stories the group gathered around forgetting about their scores for a moment and admiring the strength of these women.

With the PGA Tour’s involvement with a variety of military groups everyone has had the opportunity to stand next to a true hero. While we are thanking them for their service they are thanking us for the chance to play golf. Most of them can’t wait to get back to the war front despite severely debilitating injuries and golf is their therapy, competition, and simulated combat. They don’t look at golf as a game; it’s a means of survival, an escape from their trauma, and integration back into society. Their bodies and minds may be a bit out of kilter but there’s always a “Yes, sir or No, sir or Thank you, sir” every time you talk with them.

There’s a small cast of characters in the caddy ranks who make the list but I can’t mention any names. These guys and a few gals keep you laughing and are there in a pinch when you need them. Only caddies can relate to caddies and it’s nice to have a clique you can depend on. Car breaks down, need bail money, can’t find a room, just got fired, shot 80 on Sunday —— they’ll be there to help or console as long as you buy them a beer.

Family and friends who put up with me throughout the year, open their homes for a week and let me mess up a bedroom are extremely special. Wherever I turn up Hawaii, Texas, Florida, Baltimore, Michigan, Colorado someone is willing to take me in and put up with me. They may be old high school classmates, folks I’ve met along the way or friends of friends but without them it would be tough on the road.

Thank you everyone, you’ve made the 22 years interesting and helped me survive. Kaddy Korner will take next week off for surgery, please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

 

 

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