Shaking the Hand of Legendary Golfer and True Champion Tom Watson at Al Taqaddum Iraq 24 Nov 2007
My dad was a golfer. He began golfing as he was in his last few years in the Navy. Before he started golfing he was constantly watching it on TV when no baseball was on. When he retired he began golfing in earnest. It remained a lifelong passion of his even after he contracted Alzheimer’s disease. He developed as a golfer and by his early 50’s had developed a decent handicap. He also would help out as a volunteer at major tournaments at Pebble Beach. Dad loved golf, but as with everything in his life he took it very seriously. Sometimes when I visited home on leave dad would take me golfing and let me use his old clubs. Well, since I would golf once every three to five years I would not do very well. Before long he would be preaching at me and berating me because he said I had natural talent to hit the ball well and was wasting it. Those were always interesting outings, as my brother Jeff can testify to himself.
Anyway, back in the 1970s when I was still living at home dad would frequently watch golf on TV. One of his favorite players was Tom Watson. Back in those days because of dad I was familiar with almost every major figure in the sport. However they were not the same to me as like baseball players. Baseball was more of my sport, though I did and still do appreciate golf and now that my shoulder is getting healed up from the beating it took in Iraq I am going to be getting out on the course on a much more frequent basis once the Minor League Baseball season is over. The last time I was out in California my brother told me the same thing that my dad did about my ability to hit them ball. I trust Jeff as he is a very good golfer and had coached golf at the high school level. I think I am even more attuned to what I’m doing on the golf course because of Iraq and my PTSD. I am much more in tune with what my body is doing at any given point of time. I can now feel when a shoulder dips or I pull up on a shot as well as a number of other things that I never noticed before when I would go out on the course.
Because of dad I have retained a latent interest in golf. So when I heard that Tom Watson was in the lead at the British Open while listening to my local ESPN Sports Radio 1310 on the way home from having the Undead Tooth of Terror extracted my ears perked up. I had met Tom as well as a number of other golf legends in between missions at Al Taqaddum Air Base which was my home away from home while deployed to Iraq. Tom and several others came through on a tour. Now celebrities would make the rounds of Iraq and Afghanistan and I am grateful for them coming to visit, especially when things were not going well and a lot of guys were still getting killed and wounded. Many times I was out in the far reaches when people would come through so I didn’t see many of them. My friend Father Jose Bautista-Rojas was an escort for some dignitaries who accompanied the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen on his tour which included Lance Armstrong and Robin Williams. Jose got to spend some time with them and got me baseball hat signed by both. He said that Robin said that “I had better be praying for him.” I thought that was both funny and kind. I did meet Chuck Norris when he made his 2007 trip through Al Anbar visiting Marines. He shook about every person’s hand and had pictures taken with them and he didn’t just go to the big bases, but some of the little remote places that I went. I would have liked to meet Robin. I have heard from a number of folks that he is great to military folks. One thing that I noticed about the celebrities that came out, no matter who they were or what their politics, they were generally very friendly and seemed to care. Celebrities take a lot of knocks for many reasons, some justified and others not, but when they come out to a combat zone it is appreciated. I remember my dad talking about the Bob Hope tour that came to his ship off of Vietnam which included Sammy Davis Junior and Charro.
Anyway, I met Tom at Al Taqaddum in between mission’s right after Thanksgiving on November 24th 2007. He and his group comprised of him David Feherty, Butch Harmon, Joe Inman, Tom Lehman and Howard Twitty were some of the finest and kindest men I have ever met while deployed. These men took time with every Marine, Soldier and Sailor who came to see them. They not only signed items but they gave away more things to our folks than I have seen given anywhere. I received a hat signed by Tom and the others from the Rider Cup Team, and a picture signed by all, personalized to me. That was really cool. While talking with Tom I told him about my dad and his condition as well as my brother. I asked if it would be possible to get something signed for them. Tom got with the other guys and had a hat signed for my brother and each of the golfers inscribed a person message to my dad on the pictures. They all expressed their well wishes to him and prayers for his health. I was really touched by what gentlemen all of these men were.
I watched the last part of the British Open today pulling for Tom, but unfortunately he lost in the playoff to Stewart Cink after making bogey on 18. The golf miracle story ended with Tom finishing in second place, but even still he was not expected to do what he did even a week ago. I really felt bad for him as he stood with tears in his eyes. Despite the fact that he finished second Tom Watson to me is a gentleman, sportsman, a supporter of us who serve in unpopular wars, a man of compassion and a true Champion. God bless you Tom and thank you for what you did for my dad while I was in Iraq.