On a practice range Tuesday morning at Colonial Country Club, Andrew Miller and Joseph Lowery discovered a haunting bond.
The Army veterans were stationed in different parts of Afghanistan when they were wounded on Sept. 11, 2010.
“We were talking out on the range earlier, chitchatting about Army stuff, picking each other’s brain about what happened,” Lowery said. “We realized we were in Afghanistan at the same time and asking each other where we were, and I said, ‘You know, I got hurt Sept. 11.’ He’s like, ‘Really? Me, too.’ We’re in two totally different locations but we realized it was the same date.”
The men were at Colonial on Tuesday to get a little help with their golf games — both admit to having annoying slices — and a new set of fitted clubs, courtesy of the Birdies for the Brave’s Callaway Warrior Club Fitting program.
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Tuesday’s session was part of a series of events aimed at helping and showing appreciation to wounded warriors during this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. The annual PGA Tour event begins Thursday and continues through Sunday at Colonial Country Club.
On Saturday, two other wounded veterans, brothers Christopher and Jerry Livesay, will be honored during a special ceremony at Colonial. Christopher received the keys to a mortgage-free home in Fort Worth on Tuesday, courtesy of the Military Warriors Support Foundation and Bank of America, five days after Jerry was given a home in Killeen. Humana and the PGA Tour are providing $20,000 for each of the wounded heroes, to be used for a three-year mentoring program on homeownership.
“We are indebted to our courageous military members and their families, who make innumerable sacrifices so that all Americans can enjoy a level of freedom and quality of life unmatched around the world,” said Michael Tothe, tournament director.
‘All she wrote’
Lowery was in east Paktika province on a mission with his team in a mine-resistant all-terrain vehicle, called an MATV, when two anti-tank mines exploded under his seat. He sustained a brain injury and temporarily lost his memory — he still can’t recall his childhood, most of high school and college.
He said his right shoulder is held together by pins and strings, and he has nerve damage in his neck and brain and from his knees to his feet.
Miller and his group escorted an ordnance disposal team to a site in Arghandab River Valley, where they detonated an improvised explosive device that another squad had found.
“On our return to our outpost, I stepped on a land mine next to a wall, and that was all she wrote,” he said.
Miller lost his left leg at the knee.
On Tuesday, however, most of the talk was about golf.
‘I learned a lot’
Callaway Golf instructor Steve Mata said Miller’s prosthetic leg was a minor hindrance in that “he couldn’t get off his left side as much as you would like, but we worked around it.”
Mata said Miller would overswing at the ball a lot.
“But I had him strengthen his grip, and that helped him turn the ball over from left to right a little easier,” Mata said.
Miller, now studying finance at the University of Houston, said he had a lot of fun, picked up invaluable tips and had a great experience with his new clubs.
“I learned a lot from these guys and really appreciate everything everyone’s doing for us,” he said. “My trouble was my game in general, my grip. They helped me with a lot of that. They fixed a lot of things I was having issues with.”
Lowery had a problem that’s common among amateurs, said Mike Sposa, another Callaway instructor.
“He was really cutting across the ball producing a big slice,” Sposa said. “He just needed some correction on the path of the golf club and where it needs to go. Instead of right to left across it, we’re trying to get him to come from the inside and feel the release of the toe of the club to get the ball to turn over and produce a draw.”
Lowery, a fairly regular golfer who lives in Dripping Springs, said he didn’t realize that his stance was off.
“I was coming over the top a little bit, so we tried to keep it down on the inside and correct my swing and alignment a little,” he said.
‘Humbling on our part’
Both men recognized that they’d been given a unique experience.
A half-day full-bag fitting at Callaway’s facility in Carlsbad, Calif., would cost $300 to $500, Sposa said. The cost for such an experience at a PGA Tour event is hard to estimate because it’s something reserved for professionals and virtually unheard-of for regular folks.
“The average person doesn’t have that opportunity,” Sposa said. “What these guys went through, tacked on with 14 golf clubs and the bag, I’m going to say roughly $3,000.”
But the Callaway professionals wouldn’t try to put a value on what they got in return.
“It’s a special thing. We get to be involved with these heroes of ours who have made sacrifices just so we can enjoy our daily lives, and we can’t possibly thank them enough,” Sposa said. “To spend an hour or two with them and get their minds off their daily grind and maybe some of the pain they’re having from the injuries that they received, it’s humbling on our part. We just want to say ‘thank you’ for the freedom that they provide us.”