Just about every NFL broadcast, and many other professional sports leagues, put Veterans front and center of their respective sport. On any given Sunday you’ll hear from Veterans that more often than not look like they played in the NFL. How are these Vets chosen by the NFL to be on National Television representing Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy (I won’t forget the Coast Guard?)
Anyway, I picked-up golf at 50 years old when the window started closing on my old-man-hockey career. At 56, I now see that I have limited time to work on my golf game too. So, when I got the email from our company banker, that the last event at his club in November was The Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA http://smgaboston.org/) 2nd Annual, and one of our bank attorney regulars shot-back “in” I hit reply and prayed for a 60-degree Indian Summer day in New England.
Arriving before the 10:30am shotgun start, I immediately found myself surrounded by Veterans of all types. At the raffle table, tickets in-hand, I had a laugh with the 5-6 Vets while trying to figure out what raffle ticket to put in what basket. Or perhaps more accurately, they had a laugh on me. When I got down to the cart Paul BWN’s banker introduced me to our 4th, "Mark, meet Staff Sargent Ed Brzynchcy."
Ed was approximately 5’10” medium build, and appeared to be in his late 30s. He didn’t have the tattoos that some others did – at least not visible. This is going to be fun I thought, we have a Veteran in our group. I had no idea.
Megaphone in hand, the tournament head (and SMGA Director) advised the players that each of the 17 flag sticks today were either Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, or Coast Guard – with the flag stick on the 18th hole flying Old Glory.
“Please do not let any of the flag (sticks) hit the ground” he implored.
Message received. He then gathered all of the Veterans and their respective groups around the 18th green - where larger versions of each Armed Forces Flag & Old Glory became the background for a group photo. Something told me this tournament was going to be different.
Before the drive out to our starting hole Paul, Bill and I were well into our trash-talking grip-it-and-rip-it pre-round banter. Ed listened.
By the third hole I noticed that every ball Ed hit, no matter what club, sliced hard-right and often out of play. I also noticed that the way he addressed the ball was very close to perfect in terms of club-angle, hand position, and shoulder tilt. Anyone that plays golf knows the unwritten rule: never, ever, offer advice, any advice - in the middle of a round. “Ed, I’m going to have to take crap from Paul and Bill for two years, but next time do everything the same accept take the club back much further – so that your left shoulder is over your right knee – all the way back” I suggested.
Beginning with the next swing, and every swing thereafter, without fail Ed took the club further back, hitting several fairways and greens, and consistently driving the ball longer with less club. He shared with us that he had been deployed to Iraq 3 times over a 10 year-period, mostly riding in the back of a Bradley; it was his second year playing golf; he had gone back to Babson College and received his MBA; and started his own Executive Coaching firm Blue Cord Management http://www.bluecordmgmt.com.
Standing on the green of a long par 5 with the Army flag (stick) in-hand and my turn to putt, I turned to Bill and handed him the flag to hold; “I think Ed’s been carrying this long enough, this time we’ll carry it for him.”
On our last hole, Ed drew back his driver and hit his best drive of the day 220 yards dead middle of the fairway. He picked-up his tee, turned, looked-up and smiled at Bill, Paul, and I with a “did I really do that?” expression.
Lately, I’ve been trying to listen more and talk less in meetings with employees and customers. When someone shares an idea that’s worth trying, I’ve redoubled my efforts to execute on it. I’ll never have the courage to ride in the back of a Bradley in Iraq - but I know someone who does.