Dad and two wounded warrior sons find new hope at Golf Academy of America

May 16, 2012

The Wallace men (from left to right): Chris Wallace, his father, George, and twin younger brothers Jonathan and Matthew. All but Matthew are students at the Golf Academy of America’s Myrtle Beach, S.C., campus. (photo courtesy of the Wallace family)

For George Wallace and his two sons, Jonathan and Christopher, the Golf Academy of America is more than a place where golf instruction is taught and career paths are found. For the Wallaces, the two-year golf school they attend in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is a place where their torn lives are slowly being knitted back together.

After just one semester in the school program, where learning includes the goal of becoming a better golfer, the three have improved their games dramatically. And securing a meaningful job in the golf industry in two years would seem like winning golf's Grand Slam after what they have been through. The young men are in their late 20s and both have been discharged from military service due to injuries received in Iraq. And the father lost his job last year at a nuclear power plant near Aiken, S.C., after 30 years of employment as part of a downsizing that took the workforce from a high of 34,000 jobs to just 11,000.

"This is the first time since 2000 that all three of us are under the same roof in favorable conditions," said George Wallace, 57, who was a promising baseball player before he injured his throwing arm. "The last 12 years we have really had our share of hurdles, and both of my kids now deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"Golf has become part of our therapy, both individually and collectively. We're getting our lives back, little by little."

Chris Wallace, 29, served in the Army for 10 years until 2010 and endured some of the worst atrocities of the Iraqi war. Jonathan, 26, was a military police officer who worked with the Secret Service through 2011 before he suffered a leg injury.

His father argued with the Veterans Administration for years to get Chris the special medical attention he needed. But that only came after a personal correspondence with Hillary Clinton, then a New York senator. 

"I had pretty much given up until my daughter was born in 2008," Chris said. She brought me back to life. I didn't care if I lived or died, but she gave me something to live for. And now golf has given me a new purpose, something just for me.

"I was a soldier and that's all I knew since high school, and when they took that away from me after I was injured it crushed me. They just threw me away. It took a long time to get past that."

He still fights personal battles caused by two inoperable brain tumors the size of golf balls that remain; reminders of his ordeal. He deals with depression, powerful flashbacks and violent seizures from time to time, and he is on his second divorce. Both he and Jonathan have overcome alcohol addiction as well.

Chris now has adopted the loud clothing style that his golf idol John Daly wears and looks forward to trimming more strokes off his game.

"It kind of started as a joke, and then it became a challenge," Chris said. He suggested they attend Golf Academy of America after seeing an advertisement on the Golf Channel. "It feels like it was meant to be that all of us are now together here. We're still a family, and that's nice. Our dad is our best friend, and he's helped us through a lot. We're proud of him for being here."

George is thinking he might use his new education to pursue a job as a clubfitter. Jonathan, a gregarious and affable sort, is perfectly suited for a sales position. Chris, who has lost 100 pounds but is still a big man at 6'3" and 255 pounds, would like to be professional golfer.

That will be a challenge for Chris, but the simple fact that he sees a brighter future is encouraging.

"Everybody can say that I'll never be a professional golfer, but I have a dream of going to Q School," Chris said. "And who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?"

The challenge of golf seems simple after what the Wallaces have been through.