This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Faldo, Nicklaus, Montgomerie, Els, Norman, Trevino and Langer are just some of the golfing superstar names that grace the World Golf Hall of Fame in St Augustine, Florida. Earlier this month though, the venue prepared itself for a different brand of hero.
Ten golfers from the British Armed Forces’ Battle Back programme crossed the Atlantic to defend the Captain Pietsch Trophy against a team of golfers from the Wounded Warrior project – the US equivalent of Help for Heroes, albeit on a much larger scale, which raises funds for injured servicemen and women.
The term ‘putting your body on the line’ has long been a sporting cliché, but the teams playing on the Slammer and Squire golf course have had their lives shaped by personal sacrifice, adversity and courage.
Battle Back team manager Lieutenant Colonel Tristan Crew explained that the Captain Pietsch Trophy is the wounded serviceman’s version of the Ryder Cup, and no less competitive. He said:
It’s very competitive and getting more and more so. This year it was extremely professional.
Many Battle Back players are servicemen injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, including amputees, but there are also military personnel who have an illness or injury that takes a lifetime of adjustment. Lieutenant Colonel Crew explained:
So if you’ve had a minor ankle sprain you would not qualify.
He cited captain Chief Technician Keith Davies, who survived a brain tumour, and the team runs the whole gamut, from the seriously ill to the seriously injured.
But while the nature of the injury and illness varies enormously, it is clear that at least as much courage, dedication, raw talent and determination run through this team as through the reigning Ryder Cup team.
When asked to describe the role that golf plays in their rehabilitation, Lieutenant Colonel Crew said:
Absolutely huge. It is arguably Battle Back’s most successful sport.
As a physiotherapist at Headley Court, Lieutenant Colonel Crew reels off the physical benefits that golf can bring:
If you’re swinging a club when your balance is already compromised, walking the course or getting in and out of bunkers, it’s obviously tough. But the more I get involved with golf, I see the psychological benefits that are as, if not more, important.
It builds self-esteem and confidence and the handicap system means that players can compete against able-bodied or disabled individuals, so it’s competitive at every level.
Lieutenant Colonel Crew believes that it doesn’t take long for players to get hooked. He said:
Golf is hugely addictive. When you play, all you think about is getting that little white ball around a golf course and it gives your mind a massive break from the worries of day-to-day life.
Back to the action, this was the third time the teams had met in the history of the competition, and the standings were at one apiece. Battle Back was the holder of the trophy after a thrilling encounter in 2012 and Lieutenant Colonel Crew said that the Battle Back team’s preparation couldn’t have gone better.
With confidence high, the 3-day tournament started with the 4-ball format. The Battle Back team made short shrift of their US contemporaries, taking the first day 4-1.
Day 2 saw the teams compete in Greensomes, which sees golfers in teams of 2 using 1 ball. Chief Technician Keith Davies displayed masterly captaincy, selecting the perfect pairings to ensure that Battle Back would be unbeaten on day 2, posting a 4½ - ½ scoreline.
Then, with an 8½ - 1½ lead, the Battle Back team just needed 1½ points to retain the trophy. The final day (singles matchplay) saw the Wounded Warrior team post 3 of the first 4 points on the board, but Major Bernie Broad held his nerve and sealed the winning putt. The final day was won again by Battle Back 6-4, which set the overall final score at 14½ - 5½.
Chief Technician Davies said:
A fantastic performance, the team are obviously delighted.
He added that they are now setting their sights on the return fixture at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey in September 2014.
Between hours of hard-fought golf, the Wounded Warrior programme also provided an educational dimension, laying on seminars on nutrition and goal-setting, but nothing diluted the goal of golfing success.
Battle Back’s delighted team manager said:
To post this kind of victory is credit to the commitment and professionalism of this team of golfers. I’m very proud of what they’ve achieved here and throughout the year.