This week, the AT&T National golf tournament will have some
specially invited guests, members of the U.S. Military. Tournament host
Tiger Woods has made 30,000 tickets available to the military and their
families. As VOA's David Byrd reports, the tickets are only part of
the tournament host's way of saying "thank you."
Tiger Woods said when this tournament started in 2007 that he wanted part of it to honor the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces. The world number one golfer's late father Earl Woods was a Green Beret in Vietnam. Tiger even gets his name from one of his father's military buddies.
As part of his way of thanking the military - and honoring his father - Tiger's Foundation is committed to working with the America Supports You program, a Department of Defense organization which supports active duty military and their families.
At the AT&T National tournament, the flags of the service branches fly above the first tee. That's also where Marine Corporal Angel Cuevas of Los Angeles, California, served as one of the honorary starters.
"Welcome to the AT&T National. This is the 1:40 start time. First on the tee: from Tokyo, Japan, Shigeki Maruyama."
Corporal Cuevas serves with the Pentagon tour program. He says that Tiger Woods making free passes available helps encourage those who serve in the U.S. military. "I think it's a wonderful thing. It really is. It really shows support towards the military. And that really shows that he's open to the entire military family who are welcomed to this. And I believe there are a couple of Wounded Warriors out here, also, which is a great thing because they have like three or four deployments under their belt. And for them to come out here and experience such and environment is a wonderful thing," he said.
As Corporal Cuevas mentioned, several members of the Wounded Warriors program are also here. The program focuses on helping those with traumatic battle injuries - including amputated limbs, brain injuries, burns, blast injuries and bullet wounds.
Members of the group here this week all wear bright red shirts with the organization's logo - a soldier carrying a wounded comrade - stitched in white on the left side.
Outside their hospitality tent, Jeff Hansen of Scio, Oregon - a picture-postcard community of fewer than 700 people - stands with his girlfriend. A tall, thin young man, Jeff's left leg is missing and has been replaced with a high-tech prosthesis. His right leg still bears red and purple scars from where he was wounded in Iraq by an improvised explosive device or IED. He is pale, and soft spoken and reluctant to talk much about his injury.
Hansen says that he didn't play golf, but he was a fan. He is learning the game through the Salute Military Golf Association which works with Walter Reed Army Medical hospital. And he appreciates Tiger Woods making the tickets available.
"It is certainly generous of him. It gives us an opportunity to get out and do something that we have never done before. Uh, actually I am learning through the SMGA - Salute Military Golfer's Association," he said.
Another Wounded Warrior is Chris Burrell of Goldsboro, North Carolina. He lost one of his legs to an EFP - an especially deadly form of IED - just before Christmas of last year in Southern Baghdad. He says being at the tournament is something special.
"Well here at this tournament most of us are really avid golfers. We usually golf two or three times a week, or if we are not playing 18 holes we are at the driving range. And you know we are all great friends here, just enjoying the time being out of the hospital, just fellowship, just enjoying the moment," he said.
Burrell, a cherub-faced man with brilliant green eyes, has a baby daughter with his girlfriend back in North Carolina. He plans to go back to his home base at Fort Bragg to continue rehabilitation. Burrell says attending this tournament and working with Wounded Warriors are part of his recovery. He adds that he hopes this week helps people understand the long process combat veterans go through to - in his words - "just feel like a normal person."