Golf Eases Military Man Back into Civilian Life
August 29, 2010
By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff
PARAMUS, N.J.—It has been a pretty good golf stretch for Eugene Oh. The telecommunications design engineer has served as a volunteer this week at The Barclays, working as a marshal on the first tee at Ridgewood Country Club. After his four-day stint handling crowd control at the first event of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup concludes Sunday afternoon, Oh will take his own game to tournaments in the area next week, where he will compete in both the Bergen County and Morris County Amateurs.
It’s apparently good to have a lot of vacation time and an understanding boss.
“I just love golf. I love to play. I love to watch. I love everything about it,” says Oh. He proved the point at his former job, when Oh was living overseas. He took advantage of a “company”-built driving range, where he would hit balls as a stress reliever.
The “company, it should be noted, was the U.S. Army.
And the driving range was in Baghdad, Iraq.
In 2009, Oh was finishing his third tour of duty in Iraq as a signal officer, where he helped design the fiber-optic network there. Because his Army Reserve unit is based out of Jersey City, Oh, who had been out of the Army for only a few months, made a point to volunteer at The Barclays at Liberty National Golf Club, a course built adjacent to where he used to work. Oh had so much fun at that tournament that he came back for more just down the road at Ridgewood.
“It’s just really cool being inside the ropes, actually being able to meet the players and seeing them up close. It’s exciting,” said Oh, looking calm and relaxed in his blue volunteer shirt. The first-tee setting, in the shadow of the stately Ridgewood clubhouse, presented a stark contrast to what he experienced in the Middle East.
“Over there, you work six days a week, 12-hour days with no vacations. It’s non-stop,” Oh said. “So it’s nice to take it a little easier.”
On the tee, many of the players who are waiting for their tee time will extend greetings to the marshals and other volunteers working, Oh included.
But back during Thanksgiving of 2008, it was Oh who was saying hello to Champions Tour players Tom Watson and Tom Lehman, instructor Butch Harmon and CBS golf announcer and former European Tour player David Feherty when the quartet arrived in Baghdad as part of a USO Tour. They spoke and gave golf demonstrations. It was a nice change of pace for the soldiers. For a golfer like Oh, it was even more meaningful.
“It was great, those guys coming. I was right there. It was good to get a quick lesson from Tom Watson. Golf was just a good stress reliever over there,” he said.
Now that he’s no longer in the military, the Cornell graduate still often finds himself at driving ranges, although none of them are as makeshift as the one he used in Iraq. Oh plays his golf at several different New Jersey municipal courses, with golf serving the same role for him as a civilian as it did while he was enlisted. “For me, at least, when I’m on the golf course, I don’t think about a lot of other things. It’s a nice break.”
Although he’s not playing this week, he’s enjoying his time as one of 1,870 volunteers who is helping out at The Barclays. The volunteers give of their time to make the tournament run, allowing events like The Barclays to make larger charitable contributions.
“First of all, we couldn’t have a tournament without our volunteers,” said Alex Khowaylo, a 25-year member at Ridgewood who oversees the volunteers. “Whether it is locals, our members here at Ridgewood or people who travel great distance to volunteer, they certainly are dedicated. They work hard, they’re up at the crack of dawn and they stay late.
“And,” Khowaylo is quick to add, “they do it with smiles on their faces.”
Oh has smiled a lot this week.
When the first groups teed off Thursday morning, the temperature was 74 degrees—exactly 54 degrees cooler than the high temperature Oh experienced in Iraq. The manicured fairways and greens looked a bit different than the city located hard by the River Tigris.
“It’s a different world over there,” Oh said. “It was a little surreal coming back home, actually. It took a little while to get acclimated.”
Fortunately, he had golf to help him smoothly make the transition.
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