Ten returning service members had the opportunity to golf with a professional golfer and 20-time PGA tour winner during a golf clinic at Falcon Dunes Golf Course May 15.
Three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin joined the Thunderbolts, teaching them helpful techniques to develop their swing and improve their game.
The Airmen who were invited were returning from a variety of places around the world such as Afghanistan, Bahrain and South Korea.
Irwin said the clinic was his way to thank Airmen for their service to the country.
â€œMy ultimate objective was to ensure they have fun,â€ Irwin said.
The drive for Irwin to organize this golf clinic began after meeting a young female pilot in a golf tournament in Pebble Beach, Calif. After speaking with her, he realized that he could connect with people in a special way through golf.
As a result, he called his friend and financial advisor, Dave Highmark to help him organize the golf clinic.
â€œI think itâ€™s fantastic that he did this,â€ Highmark said. â€œI wish other public figures would do what he did today.â€
Prior to hitting the front 9, the Airmen went to the driving range. While there, Irwin coached Airmen individually on ways to develop their technique and enhance their swing.
Afterward, they broke up into groups and played 9 holes of golf. Each group had a chance to play alongside Irwin.
As the day drew down, one Airman had the courage to go toe-to-toe with Irwin on the 9th hole.
â€œWe had a little match play competition,â€ said Senior Airman Joseph Rotella, 56th Maintenance Operations Squadron scheduler. â€œWe made a bet that whoever won the hole would have bragging rights.â€
Rotella started out strong with a long drive. However, Irwin made a comeback on the green, and won the hole after he made a very difficult put.
Although Rotella doesnâ€™t have bragging rights, he still had fun improving his golf swing.
â€œItâ€™s an honor to be able to play golf with Irwin and to be a part of such a rare experience,â€ Rotella said.
After the 9th and final hole of the day, the Airmen had lunch with Irwin and chatted with him on topics varying from how he first began his golfing career, to the importance of setting goals and reaching your maximum capability.
Irwin used his story of how he succeeded in his career as an example to show the Airmen that they too can achieve their goals.
â€œThe motto, â€˜be all you can beâ€™ isnâ€™t just a clichÃ©, itâ€™s true,â€ Irwin said.
At the end of the day, Irwin was glad to spend time with the Airmen. In his eyes, the day was a success. Irwin plans to continue his movement and has hopes for other professional golfers to join him in supporting the troops, who fight to keep him safe from harm.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter what service theyâ€™re in,â€ Irwin said. â€œI think this is important to show support for all of those who are currently serving.â€