By Tim Rogers
On June 3, 1996 Lashunda Lee marched across the stage at Shaw High School in East Cleveland and officially graduated from high school.
Ten days later she was marching in the United States Army and eventually becoming a 92G Food Service Specialist.
“I was in the ROTC program at Shaw for four years,” Lee said recently while sitting in the Powell Educational Building at Clearview Golf Course in East Canton. “So, I decided to go into the service after graduating.”
Little did Lee – or anyone else for that matter – realize that her decision to enlist all those years ago would indirectly lead to her becoming a PGA HOPE Ambassador for the Northern Ohio Section of the Professional Golfers Association of America.
In between there were five years of active military duty at Fort Jackson (South Carolina), Fort Lee (Virgina) and Fort Hood (Killeen, Texas) and three years of inactive duty; served as a substitute teacher with the Texas Independent School District and several years with a non-profit organization at St. Vincent Charity Hospital working with at-risk students once she returned to Northeast Ohio.
PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is the flagship military program of the Northern Ohio PGA Section Foundation. Its mission is to introduce and teach golf to our nation‘s veterans and first responders with an emphasis on enhancing their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.
As the PGA HOPE Ambassador, Lee will spread the word of the organization, recruit new Veterans into the program, and encourage them to take advantage of all that is offered through the foundation.
The golfing gods can work in a variety of ways and Lashunda Lee is proof. Over the years a series of injuries, trauma, and surgeries left Lee physically weakened, mentally strained and in need of rehabilitation. Towards the end of physical therapy her therapist advised her to perform exercises that would help her range of motion.
“I tried to think of ways to continue my therapy and I was driving down the street one day and I saw this man had a whole bunch of golf bags (with a few clubs) lined up on his front lawn and he was selling them,” she recalled. “So, I stopped and bought a 20 dollar golf bag and clubs.”
She started free-swinging those clubs in an empty lot across from her residence in the Fairfax neighborhood of Cleveland. A short time later she added balls to the process. It became a source of therapy, both physical and emotional.
“For the hour or so that I was out there I noticed that swinging those clubs at those balls took my mind off everything,” she said. “All I wanted to see was to see my ball go straight and high. I kept working at it and the ball would go straight and high. I whipped out my phone and video called my mom and sister and they were laughing at me hitting those balls in the empty field. I responded ‘Don’t laugh, I may play for the PGA one day.’ After an hour or so I went inside and turned on the television and there was Trevor talking about the PGA HOPE.”
That would be Trevor Hazen, PGA, one of several PGA professionals at the Union Performance Centre, Home of the Jim Wise Golf Academy at Medina Country Club. At the time Hazen worked at The Turn, the facility at North Olmsted Golf Club that serves people with physical disabilities through the game of golf.
She attended one of Hazen’s PGA HOPE sessions at The Turn in 2022 and was hooked. She immediately entered the PGA HOPE program and has never looked back.
“I didn’t know what to expect when signing up for the PGA HOPE Program. Will I be the only woman? Will there be any triggers? Or how will the instructors react if I make a mistake?” she said about her decision to investigate PGA HOPE. “I was afraid to get involved. But I didn’t want to remain in that little shell either and that’s why I decided to see what it was all about. So, a friend of mine agreed to go with me to the first PGA HOPE class I went to and she has gone every time.”
Her repeated attendance has brought comfort and the knowledge that help is out there.
“PGA HOPE is a safe place,” she said. “It is a safe place for women.
It also left her with a clear understanding of what injured/abused/disabled veterans experience.
“I didn’t know anything about golf and nothing about the PGA HOPE program,” she said. “But what I learned right away is that it has a love and passion for veterans and the game of golf. The level of professionalism is felt right away as soon as you walk in. The instructors are friendly and very understanding.”
At the time she was just getting started and today is still learning the game and all its terminologies, rules and nuances.
“There is so much to learn,” she said. “When I started I didn’t know anything. Now I know the difference between a sand wedge and a pitching wedge, what a slice is, what a mulligan is.”
She still hits balls in that vacant lot across from her home but also practices at the Washington Golf & Learning Center in Newburgh Heights, which also is a PGA HOPE site.
Recently, Lee attended National Golf and Wellness Week in Washington, D.C. While there she was given the opportunity to play 18 holes at Congressional Country Club.
“What a place,” she said of the site of five major championships and numerous stops on the PGA Tour. “Everything was perfect. There wasn’t a blade of grass out of place. It was an honor to play at a prestigious historical course.”
It is a long way from the stage at Shaw High to Congressional Country Club. And it is a long way from the U.S. Army to the PGA HOPE program.
Indeed, the golf gods can work in a variety of ways.