CARLSBAD — For Operation Game On’s combat wounded troops who had just spent eight weeks learning the game of golf, Nov. 10 turned out to be a fitting day — for a number of reasons — to be measured for custom equipment at The Kingdom at TaylorMade.
In addition to being the day before Veterans Day, it marked the 242nd anniversary of the Marine Corps and the 23rd birthday of Spanish professional golfer Jon Rahm, who was at the Carlsbad facility preparing for the DP World Tour Championship.
About 100 employees gathered at the driving range to greet the troops with an ovation to thank them for their service, and former Canadian Tour player-turned-musician Joe Horowitz sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Rahm, who won the Dubai tournament nine days later, chatted with the servicemen, signed a U.S. Open staff bag personalized for each one and hung around to take some pictures with them.
“It was an awesome day for our heroes thanks to the staff at TaylorMade,” Operation Game On founder Tony Perez said. “It was such an emotional day and one that I will never forget.”
Perez, a Vietnam War veteran and father of professional golfer Pat Perez, created Operation Game On in 2008 to give returning combat-injured troops suffering from physical and mental disabilities a custom introduction-to-golf package.
It is open to anyone undergoing treatment at Naval Medical Center San Diego, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton and the Veterans Administration’s Aspire Center as well as Vietnam War veterans.
Participants receive golf lessons from PGA-certified instructors at the Del Mar Golf Center, a professional fitting session at The Kingdom, custom clubs, bags, shoes and gloves at no cost to them or the military.
Doctors, prosthetic specialists and counselors have found golf is an essential link to the rehabilitation process for combat-wounded military personnel with extreme physical and mental disabilities.
“As you know, golf can be a very frustrating game to learn, but it takes their minds off of their injuries and brings out that ‘can do, will do’ attitude instilled in them,” Perez said. “They really put quite a bit of effort into it.”
“It’s more than golf,” said Petty Officer Nicole Heffel, who was part of the first all-female session last year. “It’s connecting with other veterans who all come from different paths. The camaraderie is the best part.”
“This gave me the opportunity to find my sisters again,” said Spc. Rocio Ruiz, who has a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq and Kuwait. “I realized I’m not the only one going through what I’m going through.”