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06/27/2012

Opening ceremonies honor Wounded Warriors

Military-themed ceremony featured Medal of Honor winner and a performance by the Air Force Drill Team.
Tiger Woods takes the ceremonial first shot on Wednesday. Gary Newkirk / Tiger Woods Foundation Tiger Woods takes the ceremonial first shot on Wednesday.

The AT&T National is officially open, brought to life Wednesday with a military-themed opening ceremony that featured comments by Medal of Honor winner Leroy Petry, a flyover by Black Hawk helicopters, a performance by the United States Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team and a ceremonial shot by tournament founder Tiger Woods, who was joined by junior golfers Sarah Hesterman and Nicholas Joy from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Petry, a sergeant first class in the Army, received the Medal of Honor in 2011 for his actions during a firefight in Afghanistan. He lost his right arm below the elbow while throwing a grenade that had been lobbed into the area where he and two soldiers were taking cover. The grenade exploded just as he released it, but his actions saved his fellow soldiers from further injury.

A native of New Mexico, he was a basketball player before he joined the Army.

"I knew my days as a basketball player were over," he said of his injuries.

He told the audience, which included PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and members of Congress, that golf is a lot like the military. "Most of all," he said, "they require integrity and honor."

Petry, 32, took up golf after he lost his hand.

"I keep telling myself I only have one hand to count on," he said, "so I'm not going to make anything larger than a 5 on any hole."

Among those who watched the opening ceremony was Australian Marc Leishman, who won the Travelers Championship Sunday, and will begin play Thursday in the AT&T National. He said he left the opening ceremony inspired.

"What they do is on a different page than what we do as golfers," he said.

With each year the AT&T National has a greater military presence, and Tiger Woods, the tournament founder, said that's by design.

"I grew up around the military," said Woods, whose father, Earl, retired from the Army as a Lt. Colonel. "I have been around the military all my life."

Title sponsor AT&T hosted a luncheon for the Wounded Warriors following the opening ceremonies. These men and women are veterans being assisted as part of the Wounded Warrior Project, which assists severely injured service members.

"If the public just knew what these people do," said Woods as he mingled with the Wounded Warriors. "They go out in harm's way to protect us.' "

Woods said his guests at the luncheon "have paid a severe price, but not the ultimate price" in service to America. He wants to help them move on with life to reach their personal goals.

"I wish people could meet them and see their attitude," he said. "It's an honor to do things for them."