WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — As Makiah Brown of the New York Police Department sang “God Bless America” on a gray and foggy morning Wednesday at The Greenbrier, Bubba Watson tried to hold back a few sobs—unsuccessfully, it turned out.
That one moment, part of a September 11 Remembrance Ceremony, galvanized the theme of this week’s season-opening event on the PGA Tour, named A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
All play in the tournament pro-am was halted at 8:46 a.m. for a moment of silence, marking the time when the first airplane hijacked by terrorists slammed into the World Trade Center in 2001. A lone trumpeter played "Taps" beside the 18th green at the Old White TPC Course before Brown’s stirring rendition of the patriotic standard. As she hit the last few bars, four F-18 aircraft buzzed overhead, unseen because of the heavy layer of fog that lingered.
Jim Justice, governor of West Virginia and owner of The Greenbrier, was in attendance, as was Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and the first Director of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, an agency created in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Also in remembrance of the 18th anniversary of theattacks, the walking trail leading from the hotel to the golf course lined with signs dedicated to first responders and telling the story of that tragic day.
The morning tribute was one of many planned throughout the day at The Greenbrier. Furthermore, a commemorative tee shot in honor of first responders is to be struck at 6:45 a.m. EDT Thursday on the first tee. The opening round of the tournament begins at 7 a.m., weather permitting. Fog delayed the start of the pro-am Wednesday for 90 minutes.
Watson, who owns a home at The Greenbrier, posed for photos after the ceremony and was still sniffling as he mustered a smile.
“Gosh, I don’t even know how to put it into words,” said the two-time Masters winner, whose father, Gerry, served in Vietnam. “I cried out there just listening to the lady singing. When you think about 'God Bless America,' the freedoms that we have to be able to play golf, I can’t even get the right words to say.
“What an honor and privilege to be able to pay respects in a small way,” Watson said. “My dad was drafted in the military, was in Vietnam. When I think about the police, the fire and rescue, and the military itself, what a tremendous asset for us to have as United States citizens.”
Watson said his father seldom spoke of his time in the service. But Bubba owns a poignant reminder of his dad’s sacrifice.
“Obviously, I knew Vietnam and where that was located, but even to the day that he passed away in 2010 he never told me places he was stationed,” said Watson, 40, who is set to begin his 15th season on the tour. “He said he was overseas. That’s how he worded it. He never told me where, all the things he did.
“The only thing I do know is that he had a scar right here [pointing to his right eye], so they pulled shrapnel out of his face, and then he had shrapnel in his back by his kidney,” Watson said. “When he passed away, we took it out. It was really small. It deteriorated in his body. So, we still have that little piece of shrapnel, which is obviously fragments from a grenade. Even though he got somewhat injured, he kept fighting.”