SILVIS — As members of the United States Army, Purple Heart recipients Mike Jaborek and Phil Bell saw plenty during their tours of duty in Iraq.
On Monday, in honor of their military service, the pair got a unique behind-the-scenes look at the John Deere Classic as part of a Birdies For The Brave initiative that also included a special package from Callaway golf.
In addition to the tour of tournament facilities at TPC Deere Run and the Callaway equipment trailer on property, the two received a special fitting from Callaway golf reps. Specifications from Monday's fitting will be sent to the plant and in a couple of weeks both will receive a complete set of equipment – including clubs, bag, gloves and balls.
As disabled veterans suffering from PTSD among other war-related injuries, the Illinois natives were appreciative of the combined efforts of those from Birdies For the Brave and Callaway.
“This is amazing,” said the 36-year-old Jaborek, who lives in Sugar Grove. “It's an honor ... gratitude that they were willing to give back and bring us out here for this experience. Golf has been a big part of my recovery.”
For Bell, 43, a 15-year Army veteran who resides in Orland Park, the behind-the-scenes look at the equipment trailer spurred an even bigger interest he has in the game.
“I've taken an interest in the past year in club fitting and all that stuff, said Bell, who retired Jan. 1, 2008, but is just getting released from subsequent surgeries. “I've been thinking about taking a class myself and learning. Taking a tour of the van and seeing how they can fine-tune it so much was interesting. But you still have to have the swing for it, too. It's an interest of mine and seeing this stuff drives that a little bit more.”
Jaborek suffered a broken right leg and ankle during his tour of duty when he said he “was blown up.” Bell suffered serious back an internal issues from an IED blast. Both suffer from PTSD.
Callaway has shown a major commitment to making a difference for wounded warriors as they adjust into civilian life and programs such as this are part of that.
“Obviously, both have given their time and effort to defend this country,” said Dave Struve, the local Callaway rep. “This is the least we can do for them.”
Field changes: With Mathew Wolff winning the 3M Open on Sunday and Colin Morikawa with a Top 10 finish, JDC officials had to make some moves with the field. Those finishes earned both players spots in this week's field on their own merit and they no longer needed sponsor exemptions that had been offered last month to the young standouts.
JDC tournament director Clair Peterson offered those exemptions to PGA Tour veteran Arjun Atwal and young pro Austin Connelly, a 22-year-old who turned pros in 2015 and is playing on the European Tour.
“Arjun played real well in Minneapolis and has been a real strong supporter of ours,” said Peterson. “Connelly has been here in previous years and just qualified for the British Open on July 2nd and will be on the jet.”
Also, Kevin Na had to withdraw because of a neck injury that also forced him out of the 3M field. Jason Kokrak also WD'd. Those moves allowed Jim Herman and Brian Davis to slide into the 156-man field off the alternate list.
QC connection: While Moline's David Lawrence isn't part of the 156-man field set to tee it up on Thursday morning, he will be part of the 2019 JDC.
Lawrence agreed to be part of today's The First Tee Lunch & Learn with a PGA Tour pro event. Also taking part in that event is First Tee program graduate and University of Illinois standout Scott Langley.
On his Facebook page, Lawrence, who played in the 2017 JDC on a sponsor exemption, said he was excited to be part of the event in his hometown.
“Growing the game of golf, especially junior golf in the Quad-Cities, is a strong passion of mine,” said Lawrence, who missed qualifying for this year's tournament. “I'm honored to be a part of such a great and meaningful event!”