Golf instructor Bob Epperly has seen it plenty of times. He will begin his talk to veterans on how to play the sport and he'll notice that the majority of them will have their arms folded, their heads down and there won't be a smile in sight.
Epperly will notice the mood in the group and then pose a question:
"I'll ask them, 'Listen, I get a feeling that nobody is really listening to me and you're all asking yourself what you're doing here in the first place," Epperly said. "You're all looking at me as if to say, 'Can't you see me? Can't you see my situation? I'm only out here to get outside for a change.' I'll then ask them to raise their hand if they feel that way. More often than not, all of them raise their hands."
But Epperly isn't just there to give them golf instructions. He's around to give them "hope."
Epperly, a PGA Professional at Antelope Green Golf Course, was recently announced as a national trainer for PGA HOPE (Helping our Patriots Everywhere), the foundation's signature military program. PGA HOPE introduces golf to veterans with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental social and emotional well-being.
So when Epperly sees the attitude of veterans as low as the notes on a bottom scale, that's when he strikes into action.
"I tell them that I'm there to prove to them that those thoughts they are having are wrong," Epperly says.
Epperly said the key to helping out the veterans is to be very adaptive.
"The prosthesis for everyone is different," Epperly said. "For some people playing golf would feel like walking on stilts and very unsteady, like you're crossing ice. So that person's image of what a golf swing is like might not be like what someone else thinks of a golf swing, so you have to adapt. For instance, if you have a golf club in a wheelchair, your knees would be in the way when you swing. So we make a shorter club and put the ball in a tee, like you would for T-ball. But you're still not hitting the ball 250 to 300 yards so the targets become shorter. The game becomes more directional rather than dealing with distance."
Epperly said he has gone through numerous training sessions so they are ready to help teach with anything. For instance, Epperly said that potential trainers will practice a variety of situations, such as learning to hit on just one leg or as mentioned earlier, while in a wheelchair.
PGA HOPE programs are currently offered at over 90 locations in the United States and have impacted over 2,000 veterans annually. The Northern California PGA section is home to nine locations, helping 600 veterans per year. Every single time Epperly helps a veteran, he said it's a thrill.
"Oh, it's always a Hallmark moment," Epperly said. "You see the look in their eyes and the smiles on their faces. They can't wait to play again. They're talking back and forth, having the time of their life. I don't know how to really explain it except to say I'm enjoying it more than them and they're having a ball."
Epperly is a veteran himself, as he was in the California Army National Guard. His dad was a bomber pilot in World War II and his brother was in Vietnam. Bob grew up in Virginia before moving to California as a teenager after his father passed away. Robert was known to not only play golf (his favorite was Arnold Palmer) but also play many other sports, including baseball.
Epperly used to not love traveling, but these days he loves traveling the nation as a trainer and seeing the looks of other professionals who also get involved in the process. He admitted that's what fires him up.
For his hard work Epperly was named the recipient of the 2018 Northern California PGA Section Patriot Award, an honor that is for special recognition on a PGA professional who personifies patriotism through golf and shows unwavering commitment and dedication to men and women who have served in the United States.
"Here's the deal, every person in the world likes recognition," Epperly said. "They love a pat on the back, a 'Good job!' or something like that. So it's very humbling to be selected by my peers for that. It's something I would never seek out but it feels great."
This article is written by Thomas Gase from Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.