BETHESDA, Md. -- Retief Goosen, the fifth-ranked golfer in the world, stopped by to sign a stack of autograph boards featuring the country club's logo after finishing his pro-am round.
"Without them, we wouldn't have the security we have over here," Goosen said, referring to the wounded service members seated and standing nearby. "So it's wonderful what they do for the country, and we appreciate what they're doing for us."
Service members being treated at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center were guests for the pro-am round of the Booz Allen Classic golf tournament at the Congressional Country Club here June 8, a day after PGA Tour officials and pro golfers visited patients at Walter Reed.
Phil Mickelson, the 2004 Masters champion, not only signed autograph boards, but also went into the bleachers to greet the wounded service members. When asked to sign a stack of autograph boards, he said he would autograph them in the huge tent where the service members were to have lunch. In the tent, Mickelson sat down at a table and signed the autographed boards, then went to every table where service members were lunching and thanked them for their service.
"For all that these guys have done for this country, for us to have the rights and privileges that we have living in this great country because of them, that's the least I could do," Mickelson said.
But Mickelson, without great fanfare, does more. He has pledged to donate $100 for every birdie and $500 for every eagle he shoots on the PGA Tour this year to Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit foundation in Massachusetts dedicated to adapting or building homes for disabled veterans with special needs.
"How can it not touch your heart to see these guys who have put their lives on the line and to see them be so grateful to be alive, and to be so grateful for all that they have," said Mickelson, whose $4.1 million winnings this year are ahead of Tiger Woods and second only to Vijay Singh. "It's great for us to look at them for an example."
One of only five golfers to have ever shot 59 in competition, Mickelson said if he had a chance to address a large group of service members returning from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, his message would be one of deep gratitude. "It's hard to say more than 'thank you' and show that they've been appreciated," he said, "and that all their work and effort and the dangerous situations they've been in so we can live the way we do is very much appreciated."
Mickelson said he never served in the armed forces, but noted that his father was a Navy F-8 Crusader jet fighter pilot at then-Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego, between the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Army Capt. Troy O'Donley, a Walter Reed patient on hand for the pro-am, said it makes sense that Mickelson and other pro golfers would be grateful to combat veterans. "I'm sure they appreciate what we do," he said, "because they wouldn't be able to play golf if we didn't have the military services we do today, and the heroes that put their lives on the line, and the people that have given their lives for the country."
And as much as Mickelson appreciates the people who serve the country, O'Donley appreciated the chance to see the pro golfers in action. "It's a great opportunity to be here," he said. "It's been a very exhilarating, relaxing, humbling experience to meet all these pros." O'Donley was a company commander for an Illinois National Guard transportation unit serving in Iraq's infamous Sunni triangle when he was wounded.
Army Capt. Marc Giammatteo said having the pro golfers take time to thank service members for their service is "very humbling, because they're very gracious. We're very grateful for them to come and say hi to us, and they're very grateful for what we've done for the country. I think we've both gotten something from the experience."
Giammatteo was injured on Jan. 8, 2004, in Iraq in a rocket-propelled grenade ambush while serving with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
Double amputee Sgt. Christopher Fesmire, 27, of San Clemente, Calif., said he doesn't follow golf, but he went to the country club because getting off the hospital grounds "is the best kind of therapy."
"I've been out on quite a few of kinds of events, and to actually get out and interact with the public is good therapy. It's good therapy to get this kind of attention.
"I'm not going to have this kind of attention ever again, so I might as well enjoy it while I have it," said Fesmire, who was hit on Oct. 10, 2004, in Iraq when his Humvee ran over a doubled-stacked anti-tank mine.
"It was a beautiful day outside, and I was really thankful to be able to be a guest at the Congressional Country Club and at the Booz Allen Classic. I was just looking for a nice day out with nice settings. To be a guest at some place like that, you know the food is going to be good - those crab cakes were really good!"