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America Supports You: Returning Troops Get Gift of Golf

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 7, 2005 – Soldiers serving in the sands of Iraq but dreaming of fairways on a golf course back home may soon get their wish, thanks to a new program called "The Long Drive Home."

The project is a joint venture by Bridgestone Golf and the American Legion, who have teamed up to provide free golf equipment for returning veterans of the war on terror.

Just how much equipment is donated will be determined by how well Bridgestone Tour Team member Scott Hend hammers his tee shots. Hend is the driving-distance leader of the current PGA Tour.

For every yard over 300 that Hend averages per week on the PGA Tour, Bridgestone will provide one full skew of golf equipment -- drivers, fairway woods, irons, wedges, etc. -- for some lucky vet, the company said. In addition, Bridgestone will donate one dozen golf balls for every yard Hend averages over his nearest PGA Tour competitor per week.

Hend, a native Australian, said the idea to use golf to do something positive for the troops stemmed from his experience with the military as a child. "My dad was in the (Royal Australian) air force for 23 years. I started playing nine-hole on a military base in Australia.

"Dad said he always enjoyed being out with the (American) boys," Hend said of his father's participation in joint U.S.-Australian exercises in the Philippines. "And when I used to live in the middle of the Outback and U.S. forces would come over for their exercises, I would see American planes flying around. It was awesome.

"Obviously, the longer I hit, the straighter I hit, the better it is for everybody," Hend added. "And we can bring a bit of joy to people who have been sacrificing months, and in some cases years, of their lives to go out and do their job."

The Long Drive Home program commenced with the Booz Allen Classic golf tournament on June 6 in Potomac, Md., and will run through Oct. 21, the end of the 2005 official PGA Tour season.

At the Barclays Classic tournament, which ran from June 20 to 26 at the Westchester Country Club in Harrison, N.Y., Hend's average driving distance was 304.3 yards -- 4.3 yards over the 300-yard mark. For that 4.3 yards, Bridgestone donated $2,000 worth of equipment to returning troops.

At the Cialis Western Open in Lemont, Ill., Hend again averaged 304 yards, racking up another $2,000 worth of equipment for the troops.

Hend will not participate in the current tournament, the John Deer Classic, today through July 10, in Silvis, Ill., but is on his way to the famous St. Andrews links in Scotland to gear up for the British Open July 14-17.

"We're expecting to see some big numbers over there," a Bridgestone spokesman said. "We've already given away $4,000 worth of products, and I think it's going to increase."

Following the British Open, Hend is scheduled to play in the U.S. Bank Championship, in Milwaukee July 18-24; the Buick Open, July 25-31 in Grand Blanc, Mi., and the International, Aug. 1-7 in Castle Rock, Co.

Herd said the fact that he's playing on behalf of the troops doesn't place any undue stress on his game. "I'm just doing my job. Fortunately, I do it easily, and other people can benefit from it. I don't really think about hitting the ball," he said. "If, on occasion, I get lucky enough to hit it even farther, then even more people are going to benefit from it -- and that's the best part."

In a personal message to U.S. troops, Hend said he wants them "to keep their heads up, keep safe, get back in one piece, and that we appreciate the job they are doing.

"Just because they are on the other side of the world doesn't mean that we forget what they're doing," he added.

All of the donated Bridgestone equipment will be shipped first to the American Legion's national headquarters then distributed via local posts to predetermined returning troops.

In announcing the program, Bridgestone marketing director Dan Murphy said, "We are very pleased about the opportunity to show our appreciation for the men and women who so valiantly serve the United States abroad.

"We realize that while overseas, golf may be the farthest thing from soldiers' minds, but upon their return we think they'll yearn for life's pleasantries so many of us take for granted on a daily basis, such as playing golf."

Murphy praised the American Legion for their part in making the project possible. "Without them helping with much of the logistics of this program, it would have been difficult to bring The Long Drive Home to fruition."

"We are delighted to work with Bridgestone Golf in recognizing these outstanding men and women of our armed forces who have served in harm's way on our behalf," American Legion National Commander Thomas P. Cadmus said. "We are proud to facilitate the presentation of these welcome home gifts to America's newest veterans."

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