Sports

Mississippian among winners at VGA Championship at Fallen Oak

Brandon Johnson sends sand and ball flying as he chips from the bunker at No. 18 during the Veterans Golf Association Championship at Fallen Oak in Saucier on Wednesday.
Brandon Johnson sends sand and ball flying as he chips from the bunker at No. 18 during the Veterans Golf Association Championship at Fallen Oak in Saucier on Wednesday. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Capt. Adam Napier came to Mississippi to defend his home-state turf on the golf course, adding a shade of bronze to a resume that already includes two different pieces of purple.

The Collins native won the Combat Wounded division of the Veteran Golfers Association Championship on Wednesday at Fallen Oak. Napier, an Army veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient who survived two IED blasts in Iraq, bested his fellow vets in his division while showcasing what the second annual Veterans Golf Association Championship represents.

“I just got out of the Army in July, so I missed that day-to-day action with the guys and getting into a fun setting such as a golf course,” Napier said. “You’re paired with four guys you’ve never met before and it’s like you’ve been working with them for years in the military.”

The three-day event culminated in wins for Napier and Capt. Brandon Johnson, a Minnesota native who won the Veteran division when he knocked down a par putt on the 18th hole to bring home the red jacket with a cumulative score of 154.

For Johnson, the win was a nice bow to wrap an event that helped him connect with fellow service members on the relaxing yet competitive greens of a golf course.

“It’s about the camaraderie,” Johnson said. “I’m in the Air Force, and I get to meet and interact with members of the other service. It’s amazing. You see retired colonels, retired chiefs and retired master sergeants, and you get to meet these guys and interact with them. I think that’s what it’s all about — being a veteran and helping each other out. We get to do it through competition and golf.”

The idea of the Veteran Golfers Association began when Capt. Joshua Peyton, VGA president and CEO, and two other veterans were recovering from combat wounds at a hospital in Washington. The three used golf as a means of escape, eventually becoming close friends and understanding the therapeutic benefits that golf provides.

“We realized other veterans might be out there in similar situations like we were,” Peyton said. “In 2015, we did a pilot year. We had 400 members join that way. This past year, we’re now at 1,200 members. We’re growing really fast, and I think people see the value.”

Under a blue sky on Wednesday, the veterans assembled at Fallen Oak entertained one another in conversation as the last three golfers finished the 18th hole.

Laughter rose from inside the bar. Ice clinked the sides of whiskey glasses. The stresses of daily life during and after service seemed to melt away between a thicket of pine trees in Saucier, and that seemed to be the point.

“Golf really is an escape,” Napier said. “I find that golf is a great game, and that’s why I’m very supportive of the VGA to get veterans out, because golf requires the focus that kind of takes away from the tough things. You get out on the golf course and you focus on the golf course and playing your best. It really is an escape from, not necessarily your day-to-day lives, but some of the hard things to get past.”

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