- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Dewitt Osborne strolled up to tee off Monday morning at the golf course near Leonardtown. He steadied himself, taking advantage of the complete silence and a slight wind to his back.
His swing looked good, by just about any standards. Playing with a 10 handicap, Osborne said he feels confident with a club in his hand. The game helps him get past the screws and metal joints in his shoulder and foot that he received during years of hospitalization and surgeries after being injured in Iraq while serving as a sergeant in the Army.
Osborne, who was playing at the Breton Bay Golf and Country Club during an exhibition match for wounded veterans, put it simply — “Golf is therapy for me.”
The Upper Marlboro resident said after spending four and one-half years recovering from injuries he received in Iraq in 2008, he had all but given up on life. That was until he was invited to try his hand at golf through the Salute Military Golf Association.
“This game has given me back my life,” Osborne said.
He had been an avid athlete before his injuries, playing just about any sport — except golf. But when offered a chance to learn the game, he took to it quickly.
Some of the veterans who play regularly have been recruited to represent the United States on a national team that plays against injured veterans from the United Kingdom in the Simpson Cup or the Courage Cup.
“This program taught me everything I know about the game,” Osborne said. Now after three years he’s playing golf with that 10 handicap, after only about three years playing the game, and has represented the country in the Courage Cup.
“Through this game, learning how to play, it gives us a sense of accomplishment,” he said.
And knowing that they can still pick up a new game like golf can give the wounded veterans confidence in other aspects of life, including transitioning back into the workforce, he said.
“First, you’ve got to be comfortable with yourself again,” Osborne said of rehabilitation.
“They use golf as a rehabilitation program,” George Roy, a pro golfer and director of instruction at the Breton Bay course. “When they come back, especially with the physical disabilities, they think they can no longer compete competitively.”
Being able to learn a new game, and be successful at it, can help the veterans feel good about themselves again, he said. It also offers them a chance for camaraderie with others who may be going through similar situations.
“They’ve probably taught me more than I can teach them,” Roy said.
The team of wounded veterans won Monday’s exhibition match against the team of players from the golf club.
“None of us really played before we were hurt,” Chris Bowers said.
Bowers, who had a leg amputated after a crush injury in 2008 while serving in Iraq, was on the Simpson Cup team.
“I never thought I would walk again,” he said.
Bowers of Fredericksburg, Va., plays golf with his black Labrador, Gunner, who he said helps him keep his post-traumatic stress disorder in balance.
He said being able to keep his competitive edge through golfing has helped him regain his life.
Nick Thom, 24, of Haymarket, Va., hasn’t gotten to the level of national competition yet, but held his own on the green Monday.
Thom had both legs amputated after an IED explosion while serving as a Marine lance corporal in Afghanistan in 2010. He spent more than two years in the hospital before he was moved to an outpatient status.
Now, along with playing golf from a specialized sports wheelchair called a ParaGolfer, he’s taking college classes in hopes of earning an engineering degree, he said.
“People have a misconception of what being ‘abled’ is,” Thom said. For him, it just means having the ability to do what you want to do in life, something he’s able to do thanks to his specialized cart and programs that help wounded veterans transition back to civilian life.
The experience has allowed him to see life differently, and look forward to a positive future, he said.
The exhibition match earlier this week gave Breton Bay Golf and Country Club a chance to pitch its upcoming veterans tournament scheduled for Nov. 1 to benefit Vacations for Vets and Wounded Warrior Project.
Robert Goodman of Leonardtown was one of the local golfers playing against the team of wounded veterans.
“It’s an honor,” Goodman said of the match.