A relaxed, approachable, and often smiling Tiger Woods was in the Washington area on Wednesday to host the opening ceremony of the AT&T National, a four-day PGA Tour tournament sponsored by the Tiger Woods Foundation. As much as the guests in the VIP enclave turned their attention to Woods, he focused his attention on the people he considers the guests of honor: wounded warriors and other military. In particular he greeted Army PFC Brendan Marrocco, who, like Woods, is a man of remarkable accomplishment, though on a different and more harrowing playing field. His game is survival. Marrocco is a quadruple amputee who was wounded in Iraq on Easter Sunday in 2009. Last December he underwent double arm transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. On Wednesday he said he is now at Walter Reed doing rehab and is “doing fine.”
At the golf tournament’s site at Congressional Country Club, Woods and Marrocco arrived on the shady lawn inside the ropes at the first tee at about the same time. Woods went right to Marrocco’s wheelchair to say hello, tenderly placing his foot against the wheel, almost as a gesture of intimacy. They sat side by side in the front row at the ceremony. They were joined by sportscaster David Feherty, whose Troops First Foundation was being honored. A number of the men in the front seats with Woods and Marrocco were wounded warriors who are helped by Feherty’s program. Thanking Woods, Feherty said, “I feel this is one of the great days in my life, to be honored in this way. I can’t thank Tiger enough. He plays golf better than anybody else who has walked the face of this earth—ever!” (Though not this week. Due to an elbow sprain, he’s sitting out at his own tournament.)
Also among the speakers was Marine sergeant Glenn Silver, who was wounded when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He recounted a list of his devastating injuries, which impacted just about every part of his body—except his spirit. “Your identity gets stripped from you when you get blown up,” he said, adding that when he was in the hospital all he wanted to do was get back “with my buddies” in Afghanistan.
Free tickets to the tournament are given by Woods to wounded warriors and other military. Silver urged spectators to take advantage of the proximity. “If you see a wounded warrior, talk to them,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of their injuries. Engage in conversation. Build relationships with those who served, because we are the ones who gave up our time and our families to defend our country. What are you doing? Take a hard look at yourself and ask, ‘What can I do to make it better?’”
Woods noted that he grew up a military brat. “My father did two deployments in Vietnam,” he said. “I grew up learning golf on military bases.” That’s one reason he is committed to golf events and other programs that support the military. “I just want to say thank you every day,” he said.
When the ceremony was over, after Woods placed the tee in the ground for the first swings, and after the applause and fanfare, he again sat down beside Marrocco, who asked him, “Can I get my picture taken with you?” Woods laughed and nodded. If anyone on this day could get his photo taken with Tiger Woods it would be Marrocco. Almost on cue, the media scrum swarmed them.