I remember walking down the hall of my home course in college from the bathroom to the bar to load up on about a million Bud Lights before heading out for one of my many rounds of golf each weekend just like it was yesterday. Along the wall was a bunch of plaques commemorating various highlights of the course. Photographs of Dwight D. Eisenhower playing on the course, for who it was named; lots of awards for being one of the top courses in the Department of Defense; and of course, the plaque with the club champions for each year.
This was Eisenhower Golf Course at my Alma Mater, the United States Air Force Academy (thank you to me for my service), and although the aforementioned Bud Lights don’t exactly allow me to remember the specifics of most of the plaques, one name stood out for the multitude of wins. That name was Tom Whitney. Although that name doesn’t currently hold a ton of weight next to the Goliaths of my favorite sport, it was clear that this guy is something special.
Now years later, I stumbled upon a few articles and saw that Mr. Whitney’s golf dream did not end at the Air Force Academy. He played all four years for the Division I Falcons and served his requirement following graduation. Upon completion of the Air Force Academy, graduates are awarded a Bachelors of Science degree and a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. They are then required to serve for five years on active duty. This is awesome and honorable, but it kind of ties up athletes who might have a chance at playing in the professional ranks of their respective sport.
As it turns out, the luck of the Air Force assignment draw was none to kind to Whitney’s golf dreams to an extent. He was sent to F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming to serve as a Nuclear Missiles Officer. Now I’m not going to mince words here and I’m speaking second hand from a lot of friends who serve in this career field. It can suck.
As a Missilier, you are expected to go from your base in Cheyenne, Wyoming (not a great golf location compared to Southern California or Coastal Florida) out to a nuclear missile silo as far as locations in Nebraska, where you sit on alert for a 24 hour shift with another partner. Believe me, these men and women don’t take their jobs lightly, but they are pretty much given a travel day, a shift day, then a day off. Then the schedule repeats. The mission takes no days off because it is the number one defense against nuclear attacks. It’s tough on family life, personal life, and puts a strain on any goals a person may have.
Despite all this, Tom Whitney maintained a strong enough golf game to make a run at the tour at the culmination of his commitment to the Air Force. In 2014, Whitney took his golf career full-time and he has taken this bull by the horns.
Whitney hasn’t just been playing well, he’s been winning. He’s been posting very low scores and playing through the ranks of the mini-tours, the PGA Latinoamerica, and the Web.com Tour. He’s had two starts on the PGA Tour in 2018, including the AT&T Byron Nelson, and he made the cut and placed T-67 in the CareerBuilder Challenge.
This week, he’ll be teeing it up at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club at Witch Hollow for the WinCo Foods Portland Open on the Web.com. Although this sounds like a course straight out of a Stephen King novel, I think Tom Whitney will have a great showing.
If I haven’t given you enough of a reason to pull for Tom Whitney this week, I want to remind you that the only current Service Academy graduate with a PGA tour card is Billy Hurley III, of the United States Naval Academy. I’m already salivating at the implications of having Tom in more tour events next year. Air Force versus Navy matchups means I’ll spend half my year flying to Vegas and watching golf in the Aria sports book.
With the majors completed for this year, we look to the FedEx Cup playoffs and obviously the Ryder Cup, but cheering on Tom Whitney is a must-do for this weekend.