Operation Game On provides golf lessons and camaraderie for veterans

SAN DIEGO -- Tony Perez, a longtime starter at Torrey Pines golf course for the PGA tournaments, served in Vietnam and started a program called Operation Game On to use golf to help vets recover from physical and mental injuries.

Golf can oftentimes be a frustrating and expensive sport, but veterans are learning it can also offer a sense of peace and relief -- a feeling not experienced often.

"It's kind of weird to say but it's kind of like a healing method of just being able to focus on what I'm doing," said Leo Uzcategui, a retired U.S. Navy service member. "I'm able to just turn off the world."

Whether their injury be physical or mental, Operation Game On provides a rehab of sorts for both active and retired combat-wounded troops.

"There's a select amount of people that can relate to the things that we've gone through," said Jon Gromer, an active U.S. Navy service member. "So when you get those people together, it kind of helps with the grieving process and growing."

"It took their focus away from their injuries and they started focusing on the little white ball," said Perez, the founder of Operation Game On. "These guys and women have that can do, will do attitude and they put it to test and they learn how to play golf."

Each and every bag is donated by Taylor Made and within the bags are custom fitted clubs designed specifically for each veteran in the program. And just like in the military, each veteran is also given a combat coin, which fittingly reads "Building confidence, one swing at a time."

"Being able to stay active and not fall into that mental depression, that's big," said Gromer.

"Guys that come out here with missing one limb, missing two limbs but they still come out here and do this and it's just a matter of being able to overcome whatever injuries you have, physically or mentally," said Uzcategui.

Designed as a progression course, the eight week program teaches a new lesson each week and while the focus remains on healing, Operation Game On also makes sure that veterans know their service isn't forgotten.

"What I really appreciate about this whole program is that it's not just going through the program and then you're done," said Gromer. "It's continuous. This program is a few weeks long and with Tony, he's very active with keeping in touch and making sure everybody's doing okay."

"They paid their dues in combat and they've come home to a great reception but in their minds, they're still suffering," said Perez. "Whether physically or mentally, some have never left. Just like some of my brothers, they never left Vietnam, they're still there but we're doing our best and I think we're succeeding.”