Thursday, September 22, 2011

Iraq vet from Shannon headed to national golf finals

by Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

SHANNON - Michael Stafford seeks birdies on the golf course, not sympathy.

The 39-year-old Shannon native, who lost the lower portion of his left leg during a 2005 military tour with the National Guard in Iraq, recently competed a successful season on The Golf Channel's Am Tour, one that saw him win three tournaments and exit his competitive division the points leader.

Stafford, who wears a prosthetic limb, has qualified to play in the Tour's Championship, which begins Friday in La Quinta, Calif.

"When I go somewhere and win, people think I play in a handicapped league," he said, then smiled. "I don't. Those (handicapped) golfers are some of the best around.

"I don't want people to focus on my disability. I'd rather them focus on me playing the game. I don't want them feeling sorry for me. I feel like I'm just as good as anybody on two legs."

Stafford, who had played golf before he suffered his injury in an explosion, took up the game again in 2006.

"It's the one sport that I can do with one leg," he said. "Actually, having the prosthetic helps me some with my balance. I know that if I swing too hard, I'll fall down."

While he has some limitations off the tee - it's the part of his game he works on the most - Stafford makes up for it with his short game.

"Putting is probably the best part of my game," he said.

Positive approach

Cary Simmons, a friend and fellow golfer, believes Stafford's positive attitude is the key to his pal's success on the golf course and in life.

"He's a good father, first," Simmons said. "He doesn't have a handicap when it comes to his attitude. He just wants to go out and play good golf.

"When you're around him, there's no way you can whine and complain."

Stafford is a member of the nine-hole Okolona Country Club and was given a lifetime membership to the TPC Southwind Golf Club in Memphis, home of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, for his work with "Birdies for the Brave", a military outreach initiative supported by the PGA.

He also has helped with the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services for severely injured service members during the time between active duty and transition to civilian life.

"I try to mentor to a lot of guys who've been wounded," he said. "I want them to say, 'If he can do it, I can do it.'"
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