Former Army Captain Adam Napier is not traveling light in his journey through life. Emotional baggage weighs him down, the IEDs and fallen brothers in arms, and the physical and psychological scars they left, the traumatic brain injuries, the headaches and ringing in his ears. And the guilt.
“I had a lot of survivor’s guilt,” he said, recalling one of his two experiences with IEDs (improvised explosive devices) detonating during a deployment in Iraq, resulting in two Purple Hearts. “I had shrapnel over a large portion of the right side of my body. I was really, really lucky my vest and weapon took most of the shrapnel damage. Unfortunately my RTO [radio telephone operator], he was killed. He was standing beside me. He took the brunt of it for me.
“I came back from deployment thinking I shouldn’t be alive. I took a long time dealing with that.”
He dealt with it by rediscovering his love of golf.
A former community college player, he found golf therapeutic, the focus it took to play well allowing him to forget for the three or four hours he was on the course. He had become a hermit, he said, and the game pushed him back to being more sociable. Then he discovered the Veteran Golfers Association.
“It sounded like the perfect thing for me,” he said.
He also came across the On Course Foundation that uses golf to help veterans in their recoveries and transitions back to civilian life. He went through the PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program that assists veterans with disabilities. “As I did those, it rekindled my passion for sharing the game with people,” he said, recalling his goals, pre-Sept. 11. “It kind of gave me a voice in showing how the game had helped me.
“That led me to the Golf Academy of America.”
It was his ticket to a post-military career, or so he thought. Education Corporation of America recently announced on its website that operations at five facilities, including the Golf Academy of America, would be discontinued in December. No explanation for the decision was provided.
Early this year, Napier had moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and enrolled in its campus there, with a goal of using his education to find employment in the golf industry, with a preference for serving junior golfers and veterans. Classes started in February, and he was scheduled to finish in August 2019.
“I came up a semester short,” Napier said ruefully.
It was yet another body blow for a man who already had absorbed too many of them, a man still attempting to find his place in life, post military. Yet, like the decorated officer he was, his initial concern was for others.
“Honestly, I thought it was a joke going around,” he said. “Then the campus director officially told us, a friend of mine, a retired marine. My immediate thought was my concern for my teachers. They got no severance, no benefits. They were all top-notch people. I learned so much from them.
“I felt bad for the other students. I was using the GI bill, but a lot of others were paying out of their pockets. It was all so sudden. Everyone planned to be back here [in the new year]. And it was the middle of December. It’s the holidays. It was a cold, calculated decision.”
The timing was such that it was too late for most students to consider other options, enrolling in a college for the spring semester, for instance.
“I’m still figuring that out,” Napier said. “I planned on being here through August. I actually bought a condo here. I think a PGA Golf Management [University] Program is a little more than I want. I think I’m a little old. I can’t transfer into it, even with a four-year degree [that he has from the University of Southern Mississippi). It’s a four-and-a-half year program, and I’m 37.”
The game has been good to him and for him, notwithstanding the Golf Academy folding. He plays to a handicap index of 1.8 and has won the VGA Combat Wounded National Championship twice.
Last May, he played in the George W. Bush Institute Warrior Open at the AT&T Byron Nelson, the event the former president hosts for injured warriors, post-Sept. 11 service. “It was absolutely the greatest golf experience I could ever have,” Napier said. In the pro-am, he played with Sam Saunders, “an amazing human being, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
So his outlook remains positive, even in the wake of the letdown from the Golf Academy closing. “I’m considering starting to work my way through a green grass apprenticeship program. I’m heading back to Mississippi to use some of the contacts I made there to see if I can get that going. The contacts I’ve made, I think I’ll be OK.”