I've played golf since I was a kid, and I've always loved it. I had a good high school career in Plano, Texas, and even worked my handicap into the single digits. Still, when I graduated in 2000, I didn't have any scholarship offers, so I joined the Army.
Over the next few years I got married, had two kids and became a sergeant. In 2004, I was sent to Iraq. Golf was pretty far from my mind while I was overseas, but I figured I would take up the game again when I got home.
On Sept. 21, 2006, my life changed. On a patrol in Diayla province our Humvee hit a roadside bomb. I was thrown from the truck and suffered severe head and back injuries. Eventually I was sent to Germany for treatment, but some of my good friends died that day and on the days that followed.
In Germany and after I was sent back home, I had more than 30 surgeries on my head and spine. Most procedures led to long stints in rehab centers. During those months and years of recovery, I often thought about golf and I wondered if I would ever play again.
Unfortunately, things got worse. I was in almost constant pain and eventually became addicted to painkillers. I started drinking and became addicted to alcohol as well. My life fell apart. My wife divorced me, and I wound up in a VA detox facility for two weeks and then spent 10 months in drug-and-alcohol rehab.
When I got out, I was lost. I was awarded the Purple Heart and given a full medical retirement from the Army. I moved to Houston, and although I had a pension, I had no home until a very good friend took me in.
I started playing golf again and talking about making a life in the game, and a veterans' group put me in touch with Birdies for the Brave, a PGA Tour program that raises money to support military personnel. In 2011 the program hired me to tell my story of golf and recovery at Tour events and golf courses. Every day I met people who encouraged me to keep fighting and playing.
Things began to turn. The Military Warriors Support Foundation gave me a house in Fort Worth, close to my kids, just as the Golf Academy of America opened a site near Dallas. Thanks to the GI bill, I'm attending the academy, and while I have physical limitations—my speech and movements aren't as smooth as they once were—I aspire to be a teaching pro.
For the first time in a long time I can see the future. I look forward to teaching my kids to play and to love the game as much as I do.
SI GOLF RANKING
PLAYER (FIRST-PLACE VOTES)
Rory McIlroy (8)
Phil Mickelson (4)
Luke Donald (2)
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GOLF MAGAZINE TOP 100 TEACHERS POLL
Are Tiger Woods's Sunday struggles mental or physical?
DARREN CARROLL (HILLARY)
HEROIC SHOT Hillary, 30, hopes to become a teaching pro.