By Ken MacLeod
Dan Rooney spends four to five days a month in the cockpit of a T-38 Talon, replicating the maneuvers of enemy fighter jets while training our own young pilots as an Air Force Reservist with the 301st Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
He can tell you who the next Maverick or Iceman might be.
â€œItâ€™s like when youâ€™re in the NFL, every player is good,â€ Rooney said. â€œBut thereâ€™s definitely a discrepancy of talent. Some guys you just say wow, they are so good.â€
Rooney, 42, who previously flew many stints for the Oklahoma Air National Guard, wanted to get back in the air while still remaining devoted to his other passion, which is growing the Folds of Honor Foundation. A chat at this yearâ€™s Patriot Cup revealed that the mission is pushing its envelope.
â€œI feel like the Folds of Honor is a rocket ship on a launching pad, the booster rockets are firing and itâ€™s sitting there shaking and ready to take off,â€ Rooney said. â€œAs far as we have come in a short amount of time, there are things on the horizon that show weâ€™re prepared for a massive ascent.â€
The Folds of Honor was able to provide thousands of scholarships to the families of veterans wounded or killed in action in 2015. The need, however, continues to grow.
Fortunately, the funding does as well. Adding to the support of corporations such as Budweiser, Bushnell, Coke and QuikTrip, the FOH is about to announce partnerships with Rite Aid ($6 million over four years) and a military coin program with Outback and Carrabbas Italian Grills in which a large keepsake coin can be purchased at the restaurants for a $20 donation that goes to FOH, then used in the future for free Coca-Cola products.
Equally promising, Rooney said the FOH will announce within two weeks a partnership with Samâ€™s Club.
â€œI still donâ€™t think 10 percent of American knows who we are, but the message is growing and itâ€™s really powerful,â€ Rooney said.
QuikTrip donating its title sponsorship of a NASCAR race to the Folds of Honor has been invaluable in raising nationwide awareness.
â€œItâ€™s just massive,â€ Rooney said. â€œThe power of live network television, to be out there for four hours . . . Plus Fox Sports has been running a PSA for the last 18 months, thousands of times free of charge.â€
NOTES: One of the PGA Tour golfers who came out to support the mission was Robert Streb, Edmond North graduate who now lives in Kansas City. Streb, who had 16 top-25 and nine top-10 finishes in 2015 and played all the way through the Tour Championship, has just two top-25 finishes and is currently 115th in the Fed-Ex Cup standings for 2016.
â€œItâ€™s been a struggle with the putter,â€ Streb said. â€œLast year I had everything going but this year Iâ€™ve been kind of beating my head against a wall.â€
As a result of his first PGA Tour win last year, Streb will not lose his PGA Tour card even if he doesnâ€™t make the top 125 and reach the Fed-Ex Cup playoffs. Making a summer-long run up the rankings is much more on his mind, however.
â€œThatâ€™s the emphasis at this point,â€ he said. â€œJust move up and make sure Iâ€™m in good position for the playoffs.â€
Streb said he may have put too much pressure on himself this year to live up to his 2015 accomplishments.
â€œYou kind of expect a little more out of yourself,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m trying to get rid of that a little bit and just go back to playing golf.â€
Scott Verplank, coming off a 6-under tie for 22nd in the Senior PGA Championship in which he shot rounds of 67-70-70-71, said he was playing fairly well, although still limited physically with ongoing shoulder issues.
Tom Lehman, who tied for 16th at 8-under, has been a strong supporter of the FOH since its inception. His daughter Rachel has worked for the FOH the past two years but is soon leaving to work for a rodeo in Dallas. Lehman said his own game is still solid, for the most part.
â€œYou have days when you get out there and do what you know you can do and other days when you feel fine but you canâ€™t play at all,â€ Lehman said. â€œIt can be frustrating but itâ€™s what happens as we get older.â€