Watson Glad to Hit Balls to Aid Veterans
August 25, 2010
By Bill Vilona, Pensacola News Journal
The following article originally appeared in the Pensacola News Journal on August 19th.
PENSACOLA, Fla.—In their positions with the Blue Angels, Shawn Adkins and Larry Pitzer are usually working to help people get awestruck.
But they stood Wednesday on the practice range at A.C. Read Golf Course, mesmerized with a couple hundred other spectators, watching one of the PGA Tour’s hottest stars, Milton High graduate Bubba Watson, send golf balls soaring into oblivion.
“This is awesome. I just love to be able to see somebody who is that good hit the ball,” said Adkins, a Bonifay native stationed at Pensacola Naval Air Station, where he works as an aviation electricians mate for the U.S. Navy’s famed flight demonstration squadron.
“It’s an honor to get to meet him and for him to take the time out and do this. Even though it’s his hometown, he doesn’t have to do this and spend time with us, so it’s great,” said Pitzer, a Missouri native, who is an aviation electronics technician.
Watson, who became one of the nation’s biggest sports figures Sunday with his runner-up finish in the PGA Championship, returned to his home region for a charitable cause.
Watson provided a free clinic in partnership with the PGA TOUR’s "Birdies for the Brave" program with the U.S. Armed Forces.
The program was founded in 2005 by PGA TOUR star Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy, as a way to raise money and awareness for injured combat soldiers and families.
Watson’s father, Gerry, 64, who is battling lung cancer, was a lieutenant in the Green Berets’ Special Forces during the Vietnam War.
Prior to his son’s clinic Wednesday, Gerry Watson was honored for his military service with a plaque presented to him by Gen. Steven Duff, commander of U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Military More Important
“It’s special. With my dad’s situation, it’s brought to my heart that the military is much more important than what we do for a living,” said Bubba Watson, after wowing people with booming shots from his trademark, pink-shaft Ping driver. “So I needed to do something for the Green Berets and bring light to the Pensacola area.”
Between hitting shots with various clubs on the practice range, Watson answered questions from spectators. Bleachers were brought in to accommodate the crowd.
Watson, attired in white shirt and shorts to combat late-afternoon heat, was relaxed and cracked jokes as he conducted the hour-long clinic. He addressed why he uses a pink shaft driver (a favorite color as a kid), to his mindset before hitting the hard-luck approach shot that hit water in the deciding third playoff hole Sunday at the PGA Championship.
He then demonstrated his effortless, left-handed swing that has helped him rise to the No. 26-ranked player in the current Official World Golf Ranking.
Adkins was among the spectators filming the event on a hand-held camera.
“I’m going to take it home, look at it and study it a little bit,” said Adkins, an avid golfer who plays at the A.C. Read course on Pensacola N.A.S. “For us military guys, we work hard and to be able to take time out and see somebody like Bubba Watson, this is really cool. A lot of us never get this opportunity.”
Following the event, Watson signed autographs under a tent where Mary-Grace Reeves was among the first in line with her parents.
“It’s wonderful. He’s not only a local celebrity, but a national celebrity, so it’s fantastic to see how much he supports our community,” said Reeves, 15, a junior at Pensacola High, who has been playing golf for the past five years.
“He is a role model for young people today.”
Added her father, Hank, who works at Saufley Field, “We’re big fans. I think it’s great he supports the military this way.”
Watson became the 10th PGA TOUR player to get involved with the Birdies for the Brave. Fellow Milton High grad Boo Weekley is among the group, along with Corey Pavin, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
Weekley, one of the stars of the U.S. win two years ago in the last Ryder Cup, has joined with four other PGA Tour players in the Wounded Warrior Project, as part of the program.
Watson earned his way on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, after winning the Travelers Championship in June, then finishing second in the last major championship event of the season.
“The response has been incredible,” said Marc Raiken, community outreach program adminstrator for the PGA TOUR. "So many of (players) have such a personal connection with the military and some who don’t have a personal connection are still so willing to support the cause." Watson asked how he could join the program, after spending time with military families at the Players Championship.
He said his father has never discussed his experience in Vietnam.
“I know a lot of Vietnam veterans don’t want to talk about it, so I really don’t know much about what my dad did,” he said. "I know he was a Special Forces captain and he controlled about 12 or 15 guys, but that’s all I know. I don’t even know where he was stationed.
“But for him to be recognized and thanked for his service in this way, it’s an honor for me to be his son.”
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