JAMES CITY — Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Renee Watson didn’t know the name of the young blonde LPGA player who shook her hand early Saturday afternoon, but she could tell by the fairly large accompanying gallery that someone in the pairing she was watching must be a fan-favorite.
The following was for Morgan Pressel, a 26-year-old Floridian who is 25th in the Rolex rankings. Pressel was paired in the Kingsmill Championship’s third round with Alejandra Llaneza of Mexico.
Watson was one of four Navy representatives on Saturday, Armed Forces Day, manning the 15th hole — the “Patriots’ Outpost” as it’s been dubbed for the tournament. Each day, a female representative from a different military branch has stood watch over the pin stick, attached to an American flag instead of the customary yellow one.
“It’s amazing to see, especially that this is a competition and there’s a lot at stake,” said Naval airman Crystal Lord. “They’ve been very friendly with each other, and a lot of them have come over to us and introduced themselves and thanked us.”
Military appreciation holes are nothing new in professional golf, but this is a first for the
Kingsmill Championship. And often the recognition comes on 18 rather than a different hole at other stops.
In the pairing that followed Pressel, Kim Kaufman shook hands and offered thanks to each of the sailors after saving par to stay 1-over. The South Dakota native finished 1-under entering Sunday’s final round.
“I say thanks for being out here, but just thanks for serving,” Kaufman said.
“We have no idea what that’s like. We owe so much to them, so the least we can do is just say thanks.”
Adding another touch to the patriotic scene, a tent open to active and retired military members offering refreshments and a perfect view rests next to the 15th green.
Since the 11th edition of the tournament started, they’ve been able to look on as one of the active military representatives meets players’ caddies on the green, taking the flagstick from them so that the “Stars and Stripes” doesn’t touch the ground. When the players finish, the military members place the stick back in the hole and salute the flag before awaiting the next group’s arrival.
Kingsmill Championship organizers teamed with the USO to set up the outpost.
“I’d say 95 percent of (the players) are acknowledging them, shaking hands with them,” said Herb Wood, a tournament volunteer from Hampton.
Tournament director Matthew Schulze has noticed even some of the foreign players stopping to pay respect.
Sydnee Michaels birdied 15 Saturday and went into the clubhouse at even-par through three rounds. The Californian and her caddie stopped to acknowledge Watson, Lord, Kerryann Simon and Kristina Firkins.
Michaels’ brother-in-law is an Army colonel, and although she’s 26, she also has a nephew in the Army.
“It’s awesome. We love it,” Michaels said. “I always make sure to go shake their hands. I think everyone should be so appreciative of what the men and women of the military sacrifice for us. And it’s emotional. It really is.”
Firkins, a Maryland native stationed in Norfolk, has started playing golf in recent years but didn’t know the LPGA players by name as they came through 15.
Throughout the day, the Navy crew welcomed a constant stream of expressions of gratitude from caddies, patrons, players and volunteers.
“It’s good to get that recognition, even though that’s not why we’re here. That’s not why we do it,” Firkins said. “It’s just an all-around good feeling.
“I don’t know anybody by name right now, but I’m sure after today, I will, and I’ll have to follow them a little more.”
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-345-2352.