By:  Jacy Zollar,
Veteran John Teller’s lifelong passion for golf became his “saving grace” after returning from the military.

After honing his game over the past several years, he’ll compete against 79 other veterans from around the country from Oct. 8-11 at the Veteran Golfers Association National Championship in Mississippi.

Teller was one of 20 golfers in the central region to advance to the tournament after qualifying at the regional championship in Michigan in August. He is of six Wisconsin golfers in the tournament.

“I’m very honored and proud to not only represent my community, family and branch of service in the military, but also the nation and patriots throughout time that have provided us the freedom to be able to enjoy things like this in our country,” Teller said.

Teller said his zeal for golf dates back to childhood when his father introduced him to the game with a set of rummage sale clubs. He quickly picked up the sport and played through high school and college.

Teller joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1999 and continued playing while stationed in Japan and California. After a nine-month deployment to Iraq in 2003, he finished his enlistment with side-effects that many veterans face.

“I was facing a lot of issues from being on the front lines in combat,” Teller said. “Things like PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and anger management. I had a lot of problems being around people and it was just a rough part of life at that time.”

A few years after returning home, Teller decided to pick up a club and find the greens again.

“I went back to something I enjoyed doing — I went back to being on the course,” he said. “It was exactly what I needed. I didn’t have to be around a lot of people, I could relax and had my space. It helped me in a therapeutic fashion, which is called adaptive sports today.”

Teller realized the relief and joy golf could bring to other vets and decided to look into starting an organization. He discovered the VGA in 2014, a small nonprofit competitive golf organization that is dedicated to promoting golf for vets and families of all ages and disabilities.

Teller joined shortly after it was created and helped expand the organization nationwide. The VGA has 2,500 members, and Teller serves as regional director for 13 states in the central region.

“My whole goal with the organization was to help the many soldiers and their families avoid the darkness I went through,” Teller said. “Initially, I thought, ‘Hey, if I can even help one person find a light and joy through the game like I did, this will be worth the time and energy.’ And now we have over 2,000 people — and growing — who are finding that lightness. It’s incredible.”

Shawano Lake Golf Course and Thornberry Creek in Oneida are home to many VGA events throughout the year.

“While it operates on a competitive level, it’s really for all people of all ages and skill level, and I want to expose as many people in Wisconsin and Shawano to it as I can,” Teller said. “It’s all-encompassing, so there are divisions for wounded warriors, regular vets and family members.”

Teller said the diversity within the organization helps the vets associate with people who have had similar experiences.

That fellowship will be on display at the VGA National Championship.

“It’s 80 of the best veteran golfers throughout the country,” he said. “The VGA pretty much rolls out the red carpet for us. It’s very much a prestigious experience. The golfers have everything taken care of.”

While Teller feels a personal sense of accomplishment in qualifying for the event, he feels that the tournament holds a bigger meaning.

“During times like this when there’s a lot of divisive things going on, I think it’s really important to express our patriotism in this country and the gratitude that we’re afforded the opportunity to go to an event this,” he said.

Source:  Shawano Leader