Golfers We Like

The Wounded Warrior turned pro

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents - by curt samp­son

The Wounded Warrior turned pro.

“I thought, They can’t be se­ri­ous. This game sucks.”

OA shell pro­pelled by a Dra­gunov trav­els at about 2,700 feet per sec­ond, about 10 times as fast as a golf ball hit with a driver by an elite player. Not that Sil­ton thought in golf terms. Not then. He’d been a soc­cer, hockey and lacrosse player for the West­ford (Mass.) High School Grey Ghosts. He and his bud­dies swat­ted range balls at the Kim­ball Farm Driv­ing Range from time to time, but that was about it for Sil­ton and golf.

The bul­let reached its tar­get—Sil­ton’s head—and he fell hard into a thorny tree. His com­rades yanked hard on his left arm to get him out, maybe a lit­tle too hard. It got worse. At the hos­pi­tal in Kan­da­har, Sil­ton suf­fered a mas­sive stroke to the left side of his brain, and the right side of his body went numb.

There were mul­ti­ple surg­eries, im­plant­ing ti­ta­nium wire and a plate into his face and re­pair­ing his left shoul­der, which alone took five op­er­a­tions. He couldn’t talk, and move­ment in both sides of his body was se­verely lim­ited. Aaron’s post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, says his sis­ter, Rachel, was “more than moder­ate.” He hated crowds. In a res­tau­rant, he had to sit with his back to the wall. He had night­mares about bleed­ing into the or­ange Afghanistan sand. “I was just an angry per­son,” Sil­ton says. “And very handi- capped. I couldn’t but­ton my shirt. What most of us take for granted . . . ”

Late 2010, after a move to San Diego, and thanks to a gift of clubs from the Wounded Warrior Project, the frus­trated man took up the most frus­trat­ing game. He’d sweat through ther­apy from 7 to noon, then re­port to Marine Memo­rial, the Camp Pendle­ton golf course. He liked be­ing out­doors, but that was the only thing he liked about it.

“I thought, They can’t be se­ri­ous. This game sucks. Why would any­one play it? I couldn’t get the ball in the air. I couldn’t hit an 8-iron 100 yards. I was just aw­ful.”

But they keep score in golf, and Sil­ton, a man who iden­ti­fies mis­sions and then achieves them, de­cided he would at least try to get bet­ter. He shot 135, then 120, then 100. He got new clubs, cus­tom-fit this time. His scores kept fall­ing. “I thought, Huh, there is

some­thing to this sport. It got the left side and the right side of my body work­ing to­gether.”

More than that, golf re­placed Sil­ton’s hope­less ob­ses­sion with go­ing back to Afghanistan to get re­venge on the Tal­iban fighter who shot him. With time, and help from U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand and the Yel­low Rib­bon Foun­da­tion, Sil­ton eased back into civil­ian life. Then he be­came a golf pro.

At his 2014 grad­u­a­tion from the Golf Academy of Amer­ica, he in­tro­duced him­self to the com­mence­ment speaker, Su­san Roll, co- owner of Carls­bad Golf Cen­ter, a range and learn­ing cen­ter. She had tears in her eyes when she heard his story, then she hired him as an as­sis­tant pro. To­day he fixes and fits clubs, but mostly he teaches, in­clud­ing group lessons for eight to 10 ju­niors.

“My goal is mak­ing sure every­one en­joys it and re­alises the fun of this game,” Sil­ton says. “I’m not try­ing to make PGA pros, not at all. And for the kids who don’t want to be there, who get mad or think golf is aw­ful, I say, ‘I was in Afghanistan, and it was 135 de­grees, and I was shot in the face, and I was fight­ing for my life. So why don’t you re­think this?’ And you can see a change in them, and they say, ‘You’re right, this is not that se­ri­ous.’ ”

Les Duer is the golf-shop fa­cil­ity man­ager. “I’m re­tired United States Marine Corps as well,” he says, “and I was a lit­tle leery of his kinda rough look [shaved head] and his lit­tle speech im­ped­i­ment. Some­times he kinda yells at ’em, or at least talks loudly. But those kids love him. Par­ents, too. They come into the shop to thank me for Aaron. In my 12 years here, I’ve never had that be­fore.” n a sear­ing day in late Septem­ber 2009, in a dusty vil­lage in south­west Afghanistan, in­sur­gents and coali­tion forces locked in fe­ro­cious bat­tle. A Tal­iban fighter in a for­ti­fied mud hut aimed his Dra­gunov sniper ri­fle at a U.S. Marine Raider whose in­fu­ri­at­ingly ac­cu­rate ma­chine gun had just elim­i­nated a cadre of re­sup­ply men on mopeds. The sniper loaded a bul­let the size of a big man’s mid­dle fin­ger. He squeezed the trig­ger. The pro­jec­tile zipped through the con­cussed, smoky air at Sgt. Aaron Sil­ton.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.