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Charlie Bermann, Special to The Pilot (Pinehurst/Southern Pines, NC) August 10, 2008:

   

The Swing of Things: Local Pros Help Wounded Soldiers Improve Golf Game


BY CHARLIE BERGMANN: SPECIAL TO THE PILOT

A.J. Alston fondly refers to local golf professional, Bob Dougherty, as Dr. Bob, The Swing Doctor.

The staff sergeant from Alaska has made more than his share of trips to doctors since taking a bad fall during a training exercise in Iraq 14 months ago.

He and five other wounded soldiers attached to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bragg recently spent three days at Hyland Hills Golf Club receiving golf lessons.

Dougherty, who operates The Professionals Golf School, was assisted by other teaching pros. Hyland Hills General Manager Doug Thompson donated greens fees, carts and lunches on behalf of the 16 soldiers who participated over a two-week period.

The Warrior Transition Battalion provides services to soldiers injured in the line of duty during their recovery period until a determination is made to redeploy or discharge them.

Alston was a part of the second group to come to Hyland Hills in July. Each soldier was challenged in some way by injuries received while serving his country.

"We've had some unbelievable people come here," Dougherty says. "A lot of this here is therapy. They are going out on the golf course and not worrying about all these wounds and stuff."

Alston was pursuing a master's degree in architecture at the time he joined the army in 1999. He built upon that interest in the service, becoming a construction supervisor who has been involved in projects in Kosovo, Estonia, Kuwait and Iraq. He helped build the new Abu Ghraib prison.

"I was fortunate enough not to be one of the guys that beat doors down," he says. "They've got guys to do that, and I rebuild. I appreciate the guys that pave the way for me."

Alston suffered serious foot, back and neck injuries from a 12-foot fall during a training exercise connected with the building of new schools.

"It's amazing," he says of the accident that led to the injury. "I jump from airplanes and have no problems. It was the way I fell."

During one of the afternoon rounds of golf at Hyland Hills, Alston, an occasional golfer throughout his life, made the first eagle of his career.

"Dr. Bob made changes to my swing based on the injuries," he says. "My right foot is one of my major injuries so I tend to rock and favor it. He managed to tweak my swing enough so I could take my mind off the foot. These guys have done wonders for my swing."

Alston expects to be medically retired because of the permanent nature of some of his injuries, but thinks he will emerge from the military a better person.

"My discipline is completely different -- my perception of things has changed," he says. "It's made me well-rounded."

Teaching professionals Dale Ezyk and Lou Elder are both Navy veterans. Ezyk was in the submarine corps for over 20 years. Elder was wounded twice during the Korean War.

"We noticed when they are all on the range, they are very supportive of each other even though they don't know each other that well," Ezyk says. "You can almost feel the esprit de corps that is within these guys. It made me think back to my military days. We really bonded well together."

That kind of camaraderie may explain why after 34 years in the military, and currently recovering from heart surgery, Sgt. John Barber is anxious to redeploy to his unit in Iraq.

"My wife asks me why I want to go back, and I tell her I have no idea," says the Hope Mills native and father of two. "I just feel like it's something to do and I need to."

Barber was a member of the military police in Iraq before being transported home by Medi-Vac for triple bypass surgery. One of the challenges he faces in golf is overcoming the fear of a swing ripping open his chest where incisions were made.

During the first instruction period of the final day at Hyland Hills, the soldiers practiced getting out of a bunker at the same Par 5 17th hole where Alston drained a 10-foot putt for eagle the day before.

"The heat in Iraq is what gets to you," Barber said after taking his turn, the sand no doubt bringing back the memory. "At this time of year, you have to wear gloves outside. The heat radiates up off the sand, and it will absolutely burn your hands."

During their time as members of the Warrior Transition Battalion, the physically able soldiers are assigned duties on the base.

A chaplain's assistant, John Filipowski of San Diego has continued serving in that job at Fort Bragg after suffering a traumatic brain injury while deployed in Afghanistan.

"I do more counseling than the chaplain does," he says. "I really enjoy taking care of soldiers."

Filipowski has incurred multiple concussions during his life, several during parachute jumps. His symptoms include lack of balance, over-sensitivity to light and sound, memory loss, and cognition problems.

"My systems crash and I get overwhelmed," he says.

On the first day, Filipowski fell down several times after taking swings. Now he is displaying good balance and making solid contact with the ball.

"This has been good therapy for me," he says. "I have a hard time relaxing, and this is definitely going to help me relax. It has also helped me get my confidence back up."

Kenneth McIntyre of Sanford and Anupong Saetiew, a native of Thailand, who grew up in the state of Washington, were the beginners in the group. Saetiew is a veteran of both Gulf Wars. In his native language, Anupong means "born of greatness."

"I always wanted to take up golf, but never had the time," he says. "It was a great opportunity when they offered it to us."

After Cameron Stroeh's radius and ulna bones were nearly disintegrated by a bullet 14 months ago, his first concern was saving his right arm. The 21-year-old airborne cavalry scout from Nebraska underwent 10 surgeries that included taking bone from his fibula to reconstruct the arm.

One of his early goals during the recovery was to be able to play golf again. His long drives, with just a bit of a fade, indicate he is on the right track.

"I don't have to compensate for anything in golf," he says, gratefully, "but I can't grab things as well as I used to."

Dave Throop and Charlane Hirst are other local golf teachers that tutored the soldiers. Thompson, recognized as one of the longest hitters of a golf ball in this part of the country, gave a driving demonstration on one of the days.

He quickly noticed that this was not a typical group of golf students.

"These guys are pretty serious dudes," he says.

"It's hot out on the range, but they're pretty tenacious about wanting to learn. Nobody is out there daydreaming. They're all focused on what you're saying."

On the last afternoon, the soldiers were paired with pros in a scramble tournament. The sweet-swinging Alston picked up another eagle after holing out from off the green on the par 5 seventh hole. Afterward, door prizes contributed by local individuals and businesses were handed out.

The person benefiting the most from the help of the "swing doctors" may have been Filipowski. In fact, a second week at Hyland Hills was what his doctor ordered.

"When John's doctor saw him after the first week," Dougherty says, "he told him he had improved 1,000 per cent. He told him, 'if you can return by hook or by crook, go back.'"

Dougherty compared the atmosphere created by the positive way the soldiers encouraged each other, as they dealt with their physical limitations, with experiences he had for many years as a Special Olympics program volunteer.

"We just had a real good three days," he says. "I think we got more out of it than they did."

Contact Charlie Bergmann by e-mail at sports@thepilot.com.

 

Howard Ward, Golf Writer for The Pilot (Pinehurst/Southern Pines, NC) August 10, 2008:

HOWARD WARD: Dougherty May Be Onto Something
 

I've got a problem here.

There's a guy who knows me too well when it comes to my golf game and the mental problems I have controlling it. Yeah, mental, and physical as well.

Bob Dougherty has been teaching golf for about 100 years. He'll deny that, but I have it from a reliable source that he was seen working with Bob Jones once.

Did he teach Bob Jones that sweet swing? Don't ask me, I'm not a reliable source.

Anyway, Dougherty has been operating The Professionals Golf School for a long time. He's given lessons to everyone from beginning hackers to PGA Tour professionals. He has a great way of getting his points across to almost everyone. Except to me, of course.

My golf swing has baffled more teaching professionals than Charles Barkley's. I am directly responsible for three golf instructors seeking other professions. Watching my swing repeatedly on videotape has been known to send people screaming into the night.

But Dougherty knows all that. Listen to this note he dropped me the other day:

"Dear Howard, I've read your column with enthusiasm over the years and two themes have stood out over time -- your search for a better game and Maxfli golf balls. (You're right, Bob, and that game is why I'm always searching for balls.)

"You're a legend as a golf writer in the Carolinas. I use that term truthfully and with much affection. You called me a legendary teacher in an article, but I always question that.

"It's amazing that at your age (Thanks, Bob) that you're still searching for a better swing and a better game. Now that I'm in my late 60s, I'm doing the same. As a kid, I played with a one-plane swing. I was trying to copy my idol Hogan. As time went by, I evolved to a two-plane swing like Nicklaus because he was better than anybody else out there.

"You, me, Tiger Woods and millions of other golfers are all searching for the perfect swing, or at least one that will get us around the golf course with better numbers.

"I would stand on my head and hit it if that would produce a better score, and so would you. (Already tried that one, Bob). The problem with both of us is age. (Speak for yourself, Bob. I swung like this 50 years ago.)

"I was working with Sandy Koufax some years ago when he still lived here and we were complaining to one another about all of our injuries. He won 25 games and the World Series with the Dodgers and then he quit. Rotator cuff problems and arthritis in the left shoulder left him in agony.

"I was having the same problem with my right shoulder from playing college baseball and swinging a golf club. I told him that I used to laugh at old people who went to bed early and got up with the chickens. I didn't understand those people, but now I'm one of them.

"Now I get up in the morning and start checking the body parts to see which ones are working that day.

"At any rate, I'm trying to go back to the way I played as a kid, with a one-plane swing. Last week it all went well and I shot a 68 at Woodlake. That night I had a dream in which I had passed on and was teeing it up with Ben Hogan for a little match. I had found the perfect swing and birdied 18 straight holes. Hogan, however, birdied 14 and eagled the other four. I handed over a double-sawbuck on the 18th green.

"As we headed for the practice tee at Augusta National, Hogan was right behind me. "It could be better," he explained, lighting up a cigarette and pulling his white cap down.

"I reached the tee and there were Jack, Arnie and Gary, launching 350-yard drives.

"'How'd you guys do today?' I asked.

"'No blood,' Jack answered. 'We all shot 52.'

"'Better keep working,' I said, 'the Ice Mon laid a 50 on me today.'"

Come on, Bob! I hope you're not insinuating that I might need to hit an occasional practice ball.

 

 

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