The Simpson Cup has a knack of producing a new set of talented players each year, but one man who’s been there to see it all is Virginia-born Chris Bowers. The Team USA stalwart felt the pain of defeat at both TPC Sawgrass in 2012 and Lytham a year later, before helping to spearhead his determined team to victory at Congressional in 2014. The taste of glory may have been replaced with heartbreak after Team GB’s narrow triumph at Royal St George’s last year, but it leaves things beautifully poised as the two sides lock horns for another epic showdown at Oak Hill in 2016.
Bowers, a true ever-present, will be there once again, but like his colleagues – and opponents – he has endured a road fraught with setbacks in order to get there.
“Every able-bodied male in my family has served or served in support of our military,” Bowers explained. “After watching the events of 9/11 unfold in my classroom, the choice seemed clear. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps a few months after graduating high school. My patriotism was at its peak, and I wanted nothing more then to be in the fight against terrorism abroad. So in October 2003, I headed to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island for my chance.”
He graduated from Parris Island in early 2004, and then headed to sunny San Diego. After a few years of training there, he was deployed with the 2nd Light Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion in the spring of 2007 to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But barely a year into the mission, his world as he knew it changed forever.
“I suffered a dislocation, fracture and crush injury in western Iraq in June of 2008 during combat operations,” Bowers recalled. “My left ankle and foot were shattered, my hip was broken and I suffered a pretty good head injury. Even to this day, my TBI makes things a bit fuzzy.
“I was medevac’d to NNMC Bethesda and began my rehabilitation. After nearly two years battling limb salvage and chronic pain, my left leg was amputated to give me a better shot at a full recovery. I took my first steps in my new prosthetic mere months after my amputation and began the long road to recovery. After countless setbacks, I walked out of Walter Reed a new man in 2011 - with a new leg, and a new outlook on life.”
Indeed, that new outlook on life has reflected in his actions and perspectives in the years since.
“My disability made me slow down and smell the roses a bit. It opened my eyes to the stigmas of PTSD, and veterans in general. I noticed that some were doing better than I was, but many were not.
“The passion to help others drew me into the non-profit world, where I could focus my energy on helping my brothers and sisters rebuild after their injuries had knocked them down. I fill my heart a little, a day at a time, with every veteran I have the privilege of interacting with.”
Of course, one of the biggest forces for good in Chris’ recovery has been the On Course Foundation (OCF), and the 32-year old, already a natural sportsman, wasted little time establishing himself as a Simpson Cup shoo-in. However, he brings a whole lot more to the table than mere golfing prowess.
“I received a call in the summer of 2012 from John McAfee, who asked if I'd be interested in playing in the Simpson Cup,” Bowers reflected. “I accepted without question, and that October headed south to TPC Sawgrass for the first ever Simpson Cup. I was a bit out of my league, and learned quickly that golfers with disabilities were not to be underestimated.
“But I've been working diligently with Michael Lacy in the past two years to help grow the OCF USA brand and veteran base. There's a sense of pride that comes from watching an idea bloom into an unstoppable force that impacts veterans’ lives, and feeds their hunger for competition. In the last two years, nearly 200 veterans have competed for a spot on the US Simpson Cup team roster.”
Patriotic pride runs deep through this American team, although none more so than Bowers. He also fully understands that this event far transcends the limits of the game of golf, and fully appreciates what it has to offer. In particular, he has formed a special bond with 2016 USA captain, Steve Ogletree, and he speaks of his leader in glowing terms.
“I have been incredibly honored to represent Team USA for the last four years,” he said proudly. “The Simpson Cup means more to me than just a golf tournament. The friendships and family we've built amongst the US team have resonated throughout our community. We've spent years building the Foundation into a very competitive and close-knit golf community, with the pinnacle being the annual Simpson Cup.
"There are no words to describe the pride that I will feel watching Mr. Ogletree lead us into Oak Hill this year. I met Mr. Ogletree years ago, and asked him to play on my 2013 team. He was very quiet and reserved at first, but quickly blossomed into a force to be reckoned with. Watching him grow in confidence and ability over the last few years has been amazing, and when he was selected to captain this year’s team, it truly felt like he’d come full circle. It has been both a privilege and an honor to call him a friend and teammate.
“But I've also forged strong relationships with my UK brothers that last well beyond the two-day tournament. I've met their families and gotten to know them personally over the last few years. I cannot think of another event that would have allowed me such an opportunity,” Bowers added.
As these brave men from both sides of the Atlantic get together to put on a golfing exhibition for the fifth time, the question on everyone’s minds will doubtless be: can the Americans get it done on home soil?
“The 2016 US Simpson Cup roster looks to be the strongest to date,” Bowers noted. “I cannot wait to suit up with my brothers and battle for the Cup. After a very close defeat last year, I can tell you that the US side is craving revenge, and I cannot think of a better place for us to make our run than the prestigious Oak Hill.”