Leroy Petry stood over his ball in the tee box at Congressional Country Club’s first hole, lining up his first shot on a stunning, cloudless day in Washington, D.C. Using a grasping device attached to his right arm, lost during a 2008 battle in Afghanistan, while saving the lives of his fellow Army Rangers – an act of selflessness that earned him the Medal of Honor – Sergeant Petry went into his backswing. Surrounded by Jordan Spieth, the 2013 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, his young son and caddie, Landon, and a gallery of nearly 50 spectators, all holding their breath in anticipation, he connected with the ball, launching a blistering drive down the middle of the fairway. It was the first of a countless number of inspirational moments throughout a memorable week.
For the third consecutive year, Brightspot worked together with the Tiger Woods Foundation to provide a unique experience for golfers from a wide range of backgrounds. Sponsoring the Monday pro-am, which kicked off the Quicken Loans National, Brightspot welcomed 18 youth golfers from The First Tee, 10 top-ranked golfers from Special Olympics, and 6 wounded veterans from Feherty’s Troops First Foundation to compete alongside PGA TOUR professionals at Congressional Country Club’s famed Blue Course.
“Playing alongside Sergeant Petry was an incredible honor,” reflected Sam Wimbrow of The First Tee of Charlotte. “It was humbling to play a round of golf with a Medal of Honor recipient, and taught me so much about the sacrifices our veterans have made.”
Wimbrow, Kasey Torres of The First Tee of South Los Angeles, and Matthew Gang, a Special Olympics athlete from Virginia, were paired with Jordan Spieth, who spent the round impressed by the skills and maturity of these young golfers. “Sam, Kasey, and Matthew hit some awesome shots throughout the round," reflected Spieth. "Congressional’s tournament conditions are so challenging, but they went out there and attacked every hole. The energy and excitement on the course, especially from Matthew, made the day truly special.”
After playing in last year’s Pro-Am, Jordan joined with Brightspot to co-host this year’s event. With his Charitable Trust dedicated to helping special needs children, providing opportunities for youth golfers, and honoring veterans, the partnership made a great fit, and Jordan’s presence created memorable moments throughout the afternoon, most notably on the 18th hole.
Kelsey Wessels, a 16-year-old golfer from The First Tee of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, came to Congressional most excited about the opportunity to compete with Special Olympics athletes, learning from and sharing in their enthusiasm and passion for the sport.
Like many of Monday’s participants, Kelsey had shown admirable perseverance overcoming personal challenges. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at a young age, Kelsey has used golf to help develop a sense of confidence in herself and her abilities, and has been inspired by other golfers, like Jordan, to continue to improve.
“When Jordan won the John Deere Classic, I first started liking him. Then when he finished tied for second at The Masters, that really got me. I was really inspired! Just that, you know, he’s twenty, and he’s playing at Augusta with the top golfers in the world. Finishing second!”
Arriving at the 18th tee box, Kelsey was met by Jordan, who asked her to join his group for the final hole. With a smile stretching across the fairway, Kelsey grabbed her driver. “I don’t even know how I swung my golf club, to be honest!” she laughed. “I’ve been dealt one of the biggest setbacks in life, and I had dreamed about the opportunity to meet Jordan, and today I got to do that. I just wanted a picture, and I got way more than that.”
Also playing on Monday was Scott Rohrer, who the week before the pro-am won the gold medal at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games. On the par-3 2nd hole, Scott stuck his tee shot within 2 feet of the cup, winning closest-to-the-pin honors and another trophy to accompany the countless number of medals he has won through Special Olympics competitions.
For all of the Special Olympians, the tournament was an opportunity to showcase their incredible talents and spotlight the power of inclusion and acceptance. “I feel lucky to have been given this chance to make others more aware of Special Olympics. This event has already made my summer one that I will remember and cherish,” shared Tyler Lagasse, who placed second at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.
An incredible afternoon on the course, filled with memories for all who played and watched, left everyone inspired by the sights. For the golfers from The First Tee, however, the week was just getting started.
On Tuesday morning, The First Tee golfers arrived at Brightspot eager to learn more about the company’s work and different career opportunities. After hearing about several Brightspot clients and meeting with designers, product managers, and developers about how a website goes from idea to reality, the golfers sat down for a one-on-one conversation with a Brightspot employee, learning about their career choices and searching for advice on school and life.
These conversations, initially planned to inspire the kids, ultimately had a similar effect on the staff. “I had a great time with Andrew. He’s a smart kid that knows what he wants to do with his life…He reminded me of what it was like to be in high school again with plenty of dreams, hopes, and aspirations,” said Jeremy Schleiden, a technical manager at Brightspot.
The visit to Brightspot left a lasting impression on Deion Shepherd from The First Tee of Raritan Valley. An aspiring computer engineer, Deion’s experience left him even more excited at the prospect of a career in programming and development, “I learned from the employees on what the job is like, how they create websites, and the key skills that will allow me to someday join this industry.”
After lunch at the office, the golfers departed for the Newseum, where they stood in the shadows of remnants of the Berlin Wall and wreckage from the attacks of September 11th. Humbled by these sites and stirred by the stunning Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, the kids explored the power and legacy of the First Amendment and its impact on American history.
“I was very moved by the Pulitzer prize photos,” recalled Alex Nguyen, The First Tee of the Sandhills. “The photographs told amazing stories about American history that ranged from inspiring to tragic.”
Wednesday saw the golfers return to the course, playing a round at the Country Club of Fairfax. Placed into teams and competing in a variety of formats throughout the round, the golfers shared moments of joy and frustration walking the hilly course.
That evening, they returned to D.C. to visit a variety of American landmarks and monuments that would leave them in awe. With the sun setting, they ascended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As President Lincoln towered behind them they stood together at the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his “Dream” with the world. They quietly made their way past the Vietnam War Memorial, taking in the thousands of names of Americans who lost their lives, with a deeper appreciation for that sacrifice from the experience of playing beside wounded veterans earlier in the week. With night having fallen, the excursion ended at the World War II Memorial, where they walked around the perimeter, proudly finding their state’s pillar and reading the inspiring quotes of sacrifice and heroism. With the domes of the Capitol and Jefferson Memorial shining brightly in the distance and the Washington Monument soaring in front of them, they departed the city and prepared for their final day.
On Monday, the kids from The First Tee played Congressional. On Thursday, they walked it, watching the same pros they had played with earlier in the week compete in the first round of the Quicken Loans National. While at the course, they received a behind-the-scenes tour of the tournament, now in full swing. They started the morning asking questions of the tour director and learning the ins and outs that go in to bringing the event to life. They visited the CBS production truck and saw all of the moving parts that are required to broadcast the tournament. They learned about ShotLink, the technology used to track each player and provide information to golfers and viewers. Lastly, after making their way to the 18th hole green, they were met by Nick Faldo, who came down from the broadcast tower to join the group for a picture.
Their last night together, the 18 golfers from The First Tee had one final golf competition – a putt-putt tournament at Woody’s Driving Range! Sharing memories from throughout week the golfers laughed through the 18 holes of the Perils of the Lost Jungle, each heading home with an experience that taught them about golf, life, career, and country.
Three years ago, Brightspot invited 4 Special Olympics athletes to participate in the National Pro-Am at Congressional. This year, 34 golfers from Special Olympics, Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, and The First Tee came together to play together in what is becoming one of the most unique events on the PGA TOUR. The week provided opportunities for friendship, inspiration, and personal growth, but more importantly, memories and stories each of the golfers will tell for a lifetime.