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Military members enjoy memorable day as caddies at AT&T National

Tiger Woods greets the military caddies on Wednesday.
Photo credit: Hyon Smith/Tiger Woods Foundation

June 27, 2013

By Jerry Potter, Tiger Woods Foundation

This article has been reposted courtesy of The Tiger Woods Foundation.

BETHESDA, Md. -- Natalie Carper met Davis Love when she was 7 years old, and Love was playing in the Fred Meyer Challenge, a charity golf tournament in her home town of Portland, Ore.

"I shook his hand," she recalled.

She also met Arnold Palmer and Fuzzy Zoeller that day. Palmer and Zoeller aren't playing on the PGA TOUR anymore, but Love is.

On Wednesday, Carper, now Seaman Carper of the United States Coast Guard, ran into Love again, this time as his caddie during the Pro-Am of the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club.

Carper, 24, was the only woman among 26 active duty military members who were selected to carry a pro's bag on the 437-yard, par-4 17th hole at Congressional. The military members apply each year and are selected by Col. Dick Johns, U.S. Army Retired, from all branches of the service stationed in the Washington, D.C., area.

"She did a fantastic job," said Love as he left the 17th green.

Love, captain of the U.S. team that played Europe last fall in the Ryder Cup, gave Carper a coin from the Ryder Cup and memories that ran a little beyond shaking his hand when she was seven.

"It's neat to be able to do this," Carper said. "We get some opportunities to do other events but this was definitely exciting."

The caddies were originally scheduled to carry the bag for two pros, but stormy weather cut the Pro-Am short. Still, the caddies seemed surprised by the access they had.

"I thought it would be cool and exciting," said Seaman Phillip Johnson, who like Carper is a member of the Coast Guard's ceremonial honor guard.

Johnson, 28, is a second generation member of the Coast Guard from Elizabeth City, N.C. He joined the Coast Guard after graduating from East Carolina University.

"I'm blown away," he said. "I didn't think it would be this one-on-one with the players. They're giving us a lot of attention. We're all getting autographs and posing for pictures."

One of the more unusual members of the group is Staff Sergeant Robert Laus, stationed at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Laus is a Wounded Warrior, the designation given to those injured in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While stationed in Iraq in 2007, his left arm was damaged severely when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded behind him.

"When I saw my arm, I said, 'It's a goner,'" said Laus, from Vacaville, Calif.

He underwent 62 surgeries and spent four years combined at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Fort Belvoir Hospital. The doctors repaired his arm and got him capable of continuing his military career.

Last fall he participated in a program at Fort Belvoir where Wounded Warriors are taught golf at the post's golf course. Golf is one of the recreational activities that are part of the rehabilitation. But when Laus joined pro John Rollins on the 17th hole, he realized Rollins played a game with which he is not familiar.

"The fairway is 286 yards long, and he pulled out a hybrid club at the tee," Laus said. "I'd be lucky to hit that club 200 yards."

Laus took the opportunity to question Rollins about course strategy and was surprised to find that Rollins keeps his approach pretty simple.

"He hit a ball in the bunker, and I said, 'What do you do here?,'" recalled Laus. "He said, 'Up and over.' He said to make it simple."

Laus, 31, plans to keep working on his golf game while he continues his career. He's part of the Wounded Warrior Transition Team at Fort Belvoir, where the hospital was built specifically to help personnel coming right off the battle field to transition to either civilian life or continue their career in the military.

His next assignment will be at Fort Benning in Georgia, where he will be an instructor of regular Army personnel.

Carper, who graduated from the University of Hawaii before joining the Coast Guard, said she's trying to teach her boyfriend to play golf. Her instruction may carry more weight now that she can say she gave Love advice when he asked for her opinion about his putt at the 17th green.

"I put my two cents in," she said. "I don't know if he paid attention."

She learned one thing from the experience.

"His golf bag was a lot heavier than I thought it would be," she said. "It's a lot heavier than my golf bag."

In the afternoon, the 26 military caddies received a surprise visit from Tiger Woods who posed for photos and signed caddie bibs.

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