July 5, 2012
Dan Rooney (Men’s Golf) 1992-95
Rooney grew up in the heart of Cowboy country in Stillwater, Okla., but quickly became accustomed to the Crimson and Blue as he played golf for longtime head coach Ross Randall. During his senior year, Rooney helped KU qualify for the NCAA Tournament with clutch puts down the stretch. After becoming a PGA golf pro, the Oklahoman returned home to become an F-16 fighter pilot in the Oklahoma National Guard. During his military career, Rooney would serve his country three separate times over in Iraq. Inspired by his experiences, he has launched numerous charitable organizations and events including the Folds of Honor Foundation, Patriot Golf Day and his first book titled A Patriot’s Calling: Living a Life Between Fear and Faith.
How did you first get started in the sport of golfing?
“I started playing while I was growing up in Stillwater, Okla. My dad had taught at Oklahoma State University and he was an avid golfer. I figured if I wanted to spend time with him, the best place to do it would be at the golf course, so that’s how I started playing. He planted that seed and got the love of the game in motion (for me) at a very young age.
You grew up in Cowboy country, so how was your decision received to become a Jayhawk?
“It was my senior year at Stillwater High School, so I was (labeled) a traitor because I left Stillwater to come to the University of Kansas. That was the best thing I ever did, looking back because I would meet my wife at KU, have great time, and I have four beautiful daughters as a result.”
What was your most memorable moment as a Jayhawk?
“I think probably it was our senior year when we qualified for the NCAA tournament. The NCAAs were played at the Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn., and I birdied the last two holes, so the team made the cut at NCAA’s.
Without a doubt, that was the most memorable moment for me and a great way to go out as a collegiate golfer, to have one of the better teams in the history of the school there (at NCAA’s) and excel. After that tournament I knew that that chapter was complete in my life, but I also knew that our coach (Ross Randall) got every bit of talent out of that team, so it was all the satisfaction I needed to leave Lawrence, with that being the last tournament (I played in).
What made you interested in pursuing a career in the military?
“I had the dream since I was 12 years old of being an F-16 fighter pilot and I started telling guys on the team my junior year that I was going to go join the Air Force and be a fighter pilot. Everyone you know, kind of laughed, and said ‘Oh yeah, sure you are’, so it started there. It was something I was very passionate about and I left the University of Kansas to go and to have that experience for almost 12 years of my life. I flew the F-16 and served our country and went over to Iraq to fight alongside unbelievable people.
You can’t begin to articulate what it’s like to go into combat so the character and commitment (of these people) obviously were for God and country. Having that opportunity from a career perspective is the greatest blessing I have ever had in my life. To have that dream come true and to be able to fly those in service was an awesome experience and is something that changed me forever.”
How did your own military experience impact you to create the ‘Folds of Honor Foundation’?
“My first inspiration was in the skies of Iraq. You see things that are forever burned into your soul including the good and the absolutely unthinkable that happens in combat. I left there and was very inspired to do something. In life, your inspiration is only as good as the action you take. There is a term that I love: Synchronicity, which I define as chance with a purpose. I don’t believe in chance in life, but I believe there is a meaning for every person and for every experience. The actions you have are all guiding you toward where you are supposed to be in life.
I end up on a commercial airline flight from Chicago to Grand Rapids, Mich. about six months after my second tour in Iraq. I am on the plane with twin brothers and one of them, Corporal Brock Bucklin had been killed in Iraq. Corporal Brad Bucklin was bringing him back on the 7,000 miles trip from Iraq. That night I watched the other side of war, what you so often wonder about in combat. I watched the family and his 4-year-old son Jacob, and I knew I had to do something to help that family. From that point moving forward, I dedicated my life on a whole lot of levels to helping these families. We started the foundation (Folds of Honor) and the office. In our short journey during the last five years we have raised a little over 17-million dollars and we’ll have awarded almost 4,000 scholarships to the kids of those killed and disabled in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s been an amazingly fulfilling journey for me that I hope continues for many years.”
Patriot Golf Day is a call to action and to give back. What inspired it and what does it mean to give back in that manner?
“It kind of ties back to Kansas and playing golf as I went on to become a PGA golf professional. Golf has been an enormous part of my life since I was five years old. Golfers are inherently a very benevolent group of people, so basically we just ask people every Labor Day weekend to donate at least one extra dollar when they play golf. Last year on Patriot Golf day we raised about 4-million dollars, so it is the engine that makes the Folds of Honor Foundation fly. We are very passionate and thankful to all those folks that get out a play golf over the four-day weekend.
What are your expectations for the upcoming Patriot Golf Day?
“I am a guy that believes that you work as hard as you can and you let everything be just what it’s supposed to be. So I don’t necessarily say I was hoping to raise 4.5 million dollars this year. I think we’ll raise an excess of four million but I don’t want to limit the goodwill and put an expectation or a number on it. This year we should have well over 5,000 golf courses participating across the country and I am consistently amazed by the level of patriotism that is being displayed. I think it grows on a daily basis so we’ll see where we end up.”
You have had many titles throughout your life including one of People Magazine's Heroes of the Year and ABC World News Tonight's Persons of the Year (both for 2008), but what does the title of Jayhawk, mean to you?
“I have tremendous pride in being a Jayhawk. As I look back I feel a real sense of obligation to continue to give back and spread the message of the Jayhawk Nation and what it stands for. I think anyone who has gone to school there is bonded together. In kind of a nostalgic way, I look back now and it’s been 18 years. The perspective I have now is looking back on how formative my years were there and the people I met as well as the tremendous influence that I was bestowed courtesy of the University of Kansas. I am incredibly proud to have gone to school there and it was an unbelievable gift to be able to play on a Division I golf team and represent the school as well.
Do you still get out and hit the links today?
“Oh yeah you bet! I am still a PGA golf professional and it’s a huge part of my life. My advice to everybody out there is that the greatest blessing we can have is if you find your passion and you figure out a way to incorporate it into your every day. My passion is certainly God and country and the game of golf. Every day, I am around all three of those things. I still get to play golf, my game is not as good as it was in college, but my passion for the game still burns very brightly.”
You seem to keep pretty busy during the year, any new projects in the works with Folds of Honor or Patriot Golf Day?
“Actually I wrote a book that came out just two weeks ago called A Patriot’s Calling: Living a Life Between Fear and Faith. This is a book that if someone asked me what it’s about, I would say that I wrote it on my third tour of duty while I was in Iraq. I was sitting one morning watching the sun rise, but it struggled to bring lightness to the dark place of war. I felt this strong calling to share with people the experiences that have been uniquely placed in my life and that have guided me toward my essence. It is a call to action and we are called as patriots to give back, so this is a cool way to do it.”
Folds of Honor website: http://www.foldsofhonor.org/
Patriot Golf Day website: http://www.patriotgolfday.com/
A Patriot’s Calling website: http://patriotscalling.com/
Throwback Thursday Archive: http://www.kuathletics.com/throwbackthursday.html