BY JOHN MICHAELS
While Brooks Koepka took home the coveted Wanamaker Trophy as the 2019 PGA Champion, four military Veterans with disabilities from Northern California, including Valerie Grist, a U.S. Airforce Veteran from Benicia, enjoyed a special experience during PGA Championship week.
After traveling 3,000 miles across the country, the Veterans representing the Northern California PGA Section, arrived at Bethpage State Park, Long Island, NY on Monday, May 13th to participate in the PGA HOPE Secretary’s Cup, a spirited 9-hole golf competition for military Veterans that served as the kick-off to 2019 PGA Championship week.
The 4th Annual Secretary’s Cup featured 12 teams competing in a scramble format on Bethpage State Park’s composite Red and Blue layout. Each team consisted of one PGA Professional and four military Veterans living with physical or cognitive challenges including PTSD, TBI and amputees, among others.
Team Northern California was led by Bob Epperly, PGA Professional at Antelope Green Golf Course (Antelope, CA) and a military Veteran himself. Epperly has been involved in PGA HOPE programming since its inception, and has been instrumental in launching and growing it’s Northern California Section. Epperly was joined by Gerry Skinner, U.S. Marine Corps; Valerie Grist, U.S. Air Force; Leavy Canalin, U.S. Air Force and Mike Kopacz, U.S. Army. In addition to the Northern California PGA Section, teams represented the Gateway, New Jersey, Metropolitan, Carolinas, Philadelphia and Western New York PGA Sections.
The participating military Veterans have all graduated the PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program. The flagship military program of the Northern California PGA Foundation, the charitable foundation of the NCPGA, introduces golf to Veterans with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.
Golf has become a therapeutic part of the rehabilitation process for many Veterans with disabilities, as the PGA HOPE program features a 6-8 week instructional golf clinic, followed by a graduation, and on-course golfing opportunities. Today, programs are currently being offered at over 90 locations in the U.S., positively impacting more than 2,000 Veterans annually. PGA HOPE programming is fully funded by NCPGA Foundation and offered at NO COST for military Veterans. The Northern California PGA Section is home to one of the most prolific PGA HOPE programs in the nation with 9 locations positively impacting more than 600 Veterans.
Former New York Mets seven time All-Star third baseman David Wright, who is the Honorary Ambassador of the 2019 PGA Championship, was on hand to congratulate the winning team.
With the 2020 PGA Championship coming to TPC Harding Park, the Secretary’s Cup is sure to be a highlight of PGA Championship week, as the NCPGA Section prepares to host the event.