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Downrange Golf Clinic: Taking ‘the next step’

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Will Silva knows how to play golf, but it was only until recently the JBLM fire prevention officer learned what he was doing wrong with his game.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events teamed up with the Professional Golfers' Association Monday for the Down Range Golf Program at American Lake Veterans Golf Course.

More than 20 PGA professionals were present to lend their talent, skills and time to veterans from the Northwest. Silva was one 65 veterans who were either fine tuning their skills, or learning the game for the first time.

Silva, who lost his left leg in an accident, golfed wearing his prosthetic leg. The event introduced him to the variety of adaptive equipment the American Lake course has on site, including special scooters to accommodate double amputees or paraplegics.

Jeff Goodlow served two tours in Iraq from 2003 to 2005 and was medically discharged in 2006 following a spinal injury. His counselor at the VA suggested to him to give golf a try, and the avid sports fan gave it a shot three years ago. Ever since then he's been golfing at least five days a week and traveled from Walla Walla to learn from the pros at the Down Range event.

"It's a good opportunity for veterans who wouldn't have even thought of playing golf to have an opportunity like this, and to have support out here," Goodlow said.

The former Soldier suffered a couple of traumatic brain injuries during his deployments and suffers from PTSD. Goodlow found golf was a great way to soothe his frustration and help him focus.

"It's very therapeutic for me," he said. "It's peaceful out here."

The event introduced veterans to golf fundamentals and etiquette and also provided a network of community-based support to promote increased physical activity and improved health.

"Golf is not something you can teach in one day," said David Tostenrude, director of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events. "The goal of today is to introduce them, get them excited and give them the skills that will enable them to take the next step."

The veterans were paired with local golf professionals and worked through a variety of sessions. David Kass, the head golf professional at Salish Cliffs Golf Club in Shelton, lives next door to Eric Bowen, the PGA pro at Eagles Pride Golf Course outside JBLM. Kass jumped on the opportunity to work with the local veterans.

"You get to talk to them and find out their stories," he said. "It's humbling and fascinating."

Kass worked with golfers with a range of abilities and diagnoses, including blindness. He said the experience made him more aware of how he teaches and the questions he asks.

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