Retired Air Force Sgt. Leonard Anderson has been involved in sports, particularly golf, from a young age.
He grew up spending summer days on the course with his friends and continued to play with his fellow service members during his downtime over the course of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“When I joined, obviously work came first, and golf was kind of our little escape to get away from work,” Anderson told The Dallas Express in an interview. “A lot of [us] played a lot of softball, and a lot of our guys who played softball would also play golf on the weekends when we’d have a free weekend.”
Anderson joined the military at the urging of his father and came to call it his “dream job.” He served the United States as a dog trainer and handler, often being the first into combat as he cleared the path for other soldiers.
“Best decision I ever made. [It] changed my life,” Anderson explained. “The structure is exactly what I needed to grow up. … I didn’t know that I was going to love it when I got into it. It took a couple of years for me to figure out my niche. I didn’t even know that I was going to do the dog training bit until about five or six years in. That was the quickest way to combat, which was what I wanted to do. That’s why I joined. I wanted to be in combat to serve and do my time.”
On July 28, 2012, while conducting a recon mission in Afghanistan, his life completely changed. Anderson encountered an improvised explosive device. It exploded, causing damage to Anderson’s arms, hands, and legs, forcing him into medical retirement. He received a Purple Heart.
“I love what I did,” he told The Dallas Express. “I didn’t need to find another job. I did my dream job; I just got hurt while doing it. The competition is the only thing that really drives me now to push to another level. I haven’t really found that niche in the civilian society … that has me going 24 hours a day nonstop like I did before.”
Anderson turned to his love of sports to find that niche as he adjusts to civilian life, often playing softball through “4 The Fallen,” a non-profit organization that seeks to empower injured service members through adaptive activities, and recently rediscovering his love of golf with the help of Plano-based brand PXG.
“I wanted to play, and PXG brought the truck out there. When we went up to the range, they had all their stuff set out,” Anderson recalled. “The guy was up there talking. Of course, I wasn’t playing or warming up or anything. I was still trying to figure out, ‘How can I get a set of clubs [that] work for me?’ And that’s when the dude was like, ‘We do fittings, custom fittings.'”
While getting involved in sports again has been challenging because of his injuries, Anderson found ways to adapt. On the softball field, he uses an adapter to attach his bat, and PXG’s Jay McIlroy, who also has a background in carpentry, helped create a similar device to help with his golf game.
“This is what I do. It couldn’t have worked out any better for him than me being a fitter because I love tinkering,” McIlroy told The Dallas Express. “I love building clubs. That’s just what I do. I do a lot of woodworking in my shop and stuff, and that’s kind of my getaway from stuff. It’s my cup of tea.”
The process was filled with trials and errors, but McIlroy and Anderson said they are happy with the current product.
“We sat down, and we went over our plan of attack,” McIlroy told The Dallas Express. “We measured once, we measured twice, and we triple-thought about it. I had to wait for the attachments, but I already went to start on it. I had to do a lot of fabrication on the irons and wedges. I had to take broken shafts, and I had to cut the exact taper. I had to find the right one to cut that I could glue into the top so that it’s going to be a more snug fit for his adapter. So I did that on all 10 of his irons and wedges, just getting the correct taper to get that in.”
Anderson has only been using the clubs for a few weeks but is enjoying his new outlet that allows him to work on a fun, new challenge.
“It’s fun just figuring it out,” he said to The Dallas Express. “It’s hard, which I like because it keeps me involved. It keeps me constantly trying. In softball, you’ve got to have somebody to kind of practice with, so you can only do so much by yourself until you’re really not helping your game too much. But with golf, there’s so many [things] you [can] do all by yourself. I don’t need anybody to help me do anything. I just need to get to the range and swing until I feel good.”