That may be an understatement for the 20 veteran who competed. There were no losers.
Each of them got to play one hole of golf with the former president himself—albeit in the rain—and the event included close encounters with a variety of VIPs and celebrities. Former Vice President Dick Cheney showed up as did golfing legends Ben Crenshaw and Greg Norman. Rascal Flats provided a private dinner concert.
“With all these people, we got personal time with them, they hung out with us,” Richert said. “George Bush was there the whole time, making sure we were taken care of. He and Laura were great hosts. They were always around for whatever we needed.”
Richert, who lost his right leg above the knee to a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq in early 2007, heard about the tournament from someone who attends the church his father-in-law pastors.
“They said, ‘Hey, check this out. It looks pretty cool.’ So I did.”
Beyond having a severe war injury, participants needed only to have a golf handicap of under 20 strokes. Richert’s is just over 13.
“I got picked,” he said. “I was kind of surprised.”
Expenses for Richert, wife Krista and the other veterans were covered by corporate and private donations.
“It sounded like everything for this tournament was pretty much donated,” Richert said. “But that’s how Texas runs things. I mean, they take care of their veterans like they’re their own child.”
He and Krista boarded a flight in Wichita donated by American Airlines Saturday, Oct. 8. Pete was on the golf course later that day “just for fun.”
The following day the veterans played an official practice round. “The president made sure to play a hole with each group,” Richert said. “We played in the pouring rain together. That was a lot of fun.”
That evening, the Bushes invited the group to their home in Dallas for a Texas barbecue with what Richert called a number of “high-end people that you just see on TV.”
Everything but golf
Ironically, Richert said his play on the links turned out to be his only disappointment.
“Being the competitive guy that I am, I was very disappointed about my play,” said Richert, who finished 16th with a 36-hole score of 216. “I just kind of botched it up all week.”
With an estimated 1,000 people looking on, Richert said he hit his first tee shot straight down the fairway.
“Then I just messed it up around the green,” he said. “I don’t think it was nerves, because with my nerves it usually comes off the tee box. I just faltered a lot with my putter and my sand wedge. My sand wedge is usually golden.
“It was frustrating the first day.”
That evening, the group was invited to a dinner at Southern Methodist University.
“The Mercedes-Benz dealership donated cars and drivers to chauffer us around to all these things so we wouldn’t get lost,” Richert said.
Once again, the guest list included the rich and famous.
“All the corporate sponsors were there and big supporters showed up, too,” Richert said.
That evening he visited with the chief executive officer of Toro Golf Equipment and ate with the owner of Briggs Equipment, a leading manufacturer of accessibility lifts for people with disabilities.
The speaker that night was Ben Crenshaw, and Rascal Flats performed for the group.
Day 2 drama
The second day of golf had its share of drama.
“About 30 minutes prior to my tee time, my leg shut off on me,” Richert said, referring to his prosthetic one. “I have a microprocessor that controls my knee. There are wires and censors that go out to the foot, so when my weight goes on to the toe, my knee bends.
“When it shut off, I had no capabilities. It just was peg leg.”
Fortunately, one of the other participants was able to provide a new microprocessor.
“I got it about 15 minutes before tee time and got it reset,” Richert said. “So, the front nine of the second round I was worried like crazy about my knee shutting off again. But it didn’t.”
On the eighth hole, the head of his hybrid club flew off when he was addressing the ball. At first, Richert was forced to improvise.
Then, barely a hole later, Richert received a nice surprise.
“The Nike rep came down and handed me a brand new hybrid club,” Richert said. “He said, ‘Your club broke, and I’d like to present this to you. It’s a replacement and you can just take it home with you. We’ll even reshaft the other club and ship it back home to you.’”
Corporate sponsors showed their appreciation in a number of generous ways, Richert said. Golf Corp., for instance, gave each participant a lifetime honorary membership with free use of its 150 or so deluxe courses around the country.
“That’s when you saw about 20 war veterans get all choked up,” Richert said. An initial Golf Corp. membership is $30,000, with monthly fees on top of that.
A different gift
Richert said the weekend wasn’t just about the gifts and glamor the veterans experienced, nor the golf they played.
“There’s not a lot of amputees around here, or even severely wounded guys that I’m able to talk to all the time,” he said. “I met a lot of good, quality guys. We’re going to be taking these relationships further.”
Richert also felt empowered to pursue his passion for golf. He plays at the local course whenever the weather and caring for his two young daughters permit him.
“I love everything about it,” Richert said of the game. “I’m not saying I want to be a professional golfer or anything like that, but I definitely want to do something (in that field). Some of the people I met there have connections.”
In the meantime, Richert intends to keep working on his game and, hopefully, qualify for the Warrior Open again next year.
In a few months, five years will have passed since the explosion that severed his leg. Richert said he has no regrets about his decision to serve in the military.
“If you’re joining the military, you know what you’re getting into,” he said. “If you’re joining the military just to go to college, and don’t think you’re ever going to have to go to war, you probably should never join.
“If you’re not willing to come home changed—whether it’s mentally or physically, or even the loss of life—you shouldn’t join.
“It kind of saddens me to hear some guys say ‘it’s ruined me’ and all this,” Richert said. “I wanted to do my part. This is what happened, and I didn’t have a problem with it. You just move on with your life. You still have something to live for.”
That said, the tangible expressions of a grateful nation during his weekend in Texas felt good.
“Those four or five days were something else,” he said. “I wish Kansas could find a way to treat veterans like Texas treats their veterans—whether I’m with that or not. They’re not forgotten about down there.”