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16D AGO

Folds of Honor founder Lt. Col. Dan Rooney honors heroes at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday

7 Min Read

Beyond the Ropes

Good friends Lt. Col. Dan Rooney (left) and Jack Nicklaus, host of the Memorial. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

Good friends Lt. Col. Dan Rooney (left) and Jack Nicklaus, host of the Memorial. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)



    Written by Helen Ross @Helen_PGATOUR

    Lt. Col. Dan Rooney understands why. There’s no kickoff in golf. No first pitch or jump ball or referee dropping a puck. No single starting point, just tee times throughout the day.

    So, no one is singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” No band playing. No flag held high.

    The F-16 fighter pilot and Class A PGA pro wants to change that. He wants to bring the national anthem to the game he loves, and it starts this week at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday.

    On Friday at the end of competition, the national anthem will be played by the 18th green at Muirfield Village Golf Club. The Patriot Parachute Team will deliver the American flag. It’s the launch of Folds of Honor Friday, an initiative designed to honor servicemen and women, as well as first responders around the country.


    The Memorial will celebrate Folds of Honor Friday. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    The Memorial will celebrate Folds of Honor Friday. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    The Memorial will celebrate Folds of Honor Friday. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    The Memorial will celebrate Folds of Honor Friday. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    The Memorial will celebrate Folds of Honor Friday. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    The Memorial will celebrate Folds of Honor Friday. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)


    The Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, hosted by Rooney’s good friend, the legendary Jack Nicklaus, is the launching pad. But Folds of Honor Fridays will be held at a host of other select PGA TOUR-sanctioned events throughout the year. Fans, sponsors, staff and players will be encouraged to wear red, white and blue. Folds of Honor pins, ribbons and challenge coins will be distributed, as well.

    In keeping with the mission of the organization Rooney founded 16 years ago, 13 scholarships will be given to children and spouses of fallen and disabled servicemen and women, and first responders in each area where the event is held. The number is significant – that’s the number of folds needed to make the flag into a triangle. Since 2007, Folds of Honor has awarded over 52,000 scholarships worth almost $244 million in total.

    “My overarching motivation with Folds of Honor Friday is creating an opportunity where we can honor those who serve and focus on the stuff that brings us together as Americans,” Rooney says. “And I think most of us still are united around or faith or family and freedom, faith that tomorrow is going to be a little better than today.

    “We all want what's best for our family and we appreciate our freedoms in this country that we live in. And I hope Folds of Honor Friday, it's just a reminder of that because, boy, the world sure does love to remind us of the stuff that doesn't bring us together.

    “We love golf, we love our country, and let's just have a day where we can be Americans. Because I'll tell you, I've traveled the world and been to combat three times and with all her perfect imperfections, America is the greatest country in the world.”


    Lt. Col. Dan Rooney is a two-time Top Gun receipient and founder of Folds of Honor. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    Lt. Col. Dan Rooney is a two-time Top Gun receipient and founder of Folds of Honor. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    Lt. Col. Dan Rooney is a two-time Top Gun receipient and founder of Folds of Honor. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    Lt. Col. Dan Rooney is a two-time Top Gun receipient and founder of Folds of Honor. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)


    The Memorial Tournament presented by Workday has also planned an expansive “Salute to Service Day” on Wednesday that includes complimentary access to the military and first responders. There’s a Military Brunch and Military Outpost on the 13th hole, both hosted by JobsOhio in partnership with the tournament. There’s also a Military Caddie Program where veterans, Families of the Fallen, and active servicemen and women will caddie for TOUR players at the 16th hole during the Golden Bear Pro-Am as well as a Callaway Warrior Club Fitting.

    Medal of Honor recipient Command Sgt. Maj. Bob Patterson will be at Muirfield Village on Wednesday, too, attending several of the military activities, as well as the Memorial Honoree Ceremony where Julie Inkster and Tom Weiskopf will be celebrated.

    And Rooney will be teeing it up in the pro-am. As accomplished a golfer as he is, the man who did three combat tours in Iraq admits to being a little nervous on the first tee.

    “Funny, I'm not nervous flying in a fighter jet,” says Rooney, who played collegiately at Kansas. “… But I think you talk to anybody that plays the game and those first tee jitters just mean that you care, and it matters.

    “But I love it. And I always say, I don't play for myself anymore. And when you get in events like that, it's just a great conduit to be a vessel to share the Folds of Honor story.”

    The highly decorated Rooney, who is a two-time Top Gun recipient, started Folds of Honor after a chance encounter on a commercial flight with Brad Bucklin, who was accompanying the body of his identical twin, Corporal Brock Bucklin, back from Iraq. He calls it his moment of synchronicity, or “chance with a purpose.”

    “I've done three combat tours and I've certainly seen firsthand that freedom is not free, but I'd never seen that side of war out of the arena,” Rooney says. “And I watched the Bucklin family on the darkest night of their lives and his brothers, his parents, his wife and his 4-year-old son were out on that tarmac as the American flag-draped coffin kind of inched down from the cargo ramp.

    “And I just felt the calling from God to do something.”

    As the father of five daughters, Rooney says his greatest fear has always been what would happen to his wife and kids if he were seriously injured or killed in action. He knew he wanted his kids to be able to go to college, and that’s how education became the mission of Folds of Honor.

    “I just think it is the most empowering thing,” Rooney says. “And we turned to the game of golf and just the benevolent hearts that make up the game that brings us together and we ask people to step up and support these heroic families.”

    Rooney, who is a best-selling author and motivational speaker, was 12 years old when he met his first fighter pilot – ironically, on a golf course. He describes it as a “man crush."

    “I’m like, oh my gosh, I had no idea you could be so grown up and cool,” Rooney says.

    The following summer the iconic movie “Top Gun” premiered, and Rooney was hooked. After graduating from Kansas, he enlisted in the Air Force where he was also able to work toward his Class A PGA pro designation.

    “I always said, this is my dream job description to be a golf pro and a fighter pilot, but I had no idea how God would put those things together in such a meaningful, awesome way,” Rooney says.

    Just as meeting that fighter pilot was transformative, so was his introduction to Nicklaus. His boyhood golfing hero became a big supporter of Patriot Golf Days, which Rooney started with the PGA of America as a fundraiser for Folds of Honor, and the two have become close friends.


    Good friends Lt. Col. Dan Rooney (left) and Jack Nicklaus, host of the Memorial. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    Good friends Lt. Col. Dan Rooney (left) and Jack Nicklaus, host of the Memorial. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    Lt. Col. Dan Rooney (left) with Barbara and Jack Nicklaus. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)

    Lt. Col. Dan Rooney (left) with Barbara and Jack Nicklaus. (Courtesy Folds of Honor)


    When Rooney decided to create American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven, Michigan, Nicklaus was only too happy to help, waiving his typical design fee. All the proceeds from the golf course benefit Folds of Honor, with $1.5 million raised last year alone.

    So, when Rooney contemplated the launch of Folds of Honor Friday, the Memorial Tournament and his famous friend came to mind.

    “ And I joke with him that, hey, this is your 19th major because this is a major thing to bring the national anthem to golf,” Rooney says.

    The national anthem lasts about a minute and 53 seconds, depending on the interpretation of the artist or the flourish of the band. Rooney expects to see a melting pot of people performing the “Star Spangled Banner” at golf tournaments around the country. Some might be professional singers or a band from a nearby military base. Maybe even the fifth grader at a local elementary school.

    “Everybody I've met that's associated with the PGA TOUR is just incredibly patriotic and good,” Rooney says. “So, I don't think this is a hard one. It takes a little bit of time to gain momentum. … And that's the point of the journey that we're on right now is we are planting a seed, but I think it will grow very strong and quickly to become a new tradition in golf.”

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