This wasn’t the typical fitting, however, though McIllroy had no idea.
Anderson is a go-go-go kind of guy. After growing accustomed to working 18-hour days in the United States Air Force for more than a decade, an improvised explosive device causing the loss of one hand and multiple other fingers wasn’t going to lull him into a slow life.
Instead, Anderson turned to a hobby he’d carried with him from childhood to his time in the military — sports.
Though softball was his focus, his interest in golf was almost inevitable. In the military community, Anderson says, sports are “huge” and have a natural progression. The community starts out with softball, which Anderson still plays, and then graduates to golf as the group gets older.
“[After the injury], it was all about the recovery process and learning about what I could or couldn’t do in the future and adapting my life around that,” Anderson says. “Sports were huge throughout my military career and before. We got to be a sports unit in the military and have our own community.”
Anderson had tried different prosthetics through nonprofit programs that were fixated on everyday life or even swinging a bat, but without an ability to move a golf club the way he could before his injury, Anderson didn’t think he’d be able to seriously play again.
“Before I met [McIllroy], I could go hit some balls and I would have fun and not get caught up in the yardage and distances and whatnot,” Anderson says. “Now, I can literally go out there and grab the same [club] somebody else grabs and put out a good swing.”
Anderson first learned of PXG’s custom-club work when at a golf tournament fundraiser for 4 the Fallen, where Anderson was the program director for prosthetics.
Determined to be able to not just play, but compete, Anderson made an appointment with McIllroy, walked in and showed him the problems with his swing.
“I’m swinging clubs like I was before for the first time,” Anderson says. “I’m trying to reteach myself how to play the game but I already have all the fundamentals stored from playing [for] years and years, so I’m able to adjust a little quicker. But if it wasn’t for this setup, I wouldn’t want to take anybody’s invitation to the course because it would just be a waste of time — I don’t want to slow people down.”
McIllroy got to work, drawing inspiration from PXG founder Bob Parsons, who is also a veteran and Purple Heart recipient, he says.
He began by selecting stock PXG equipment, but Anderson needed an extension from the Department of Veterans Affairs for his prosthetics for the clubs to fit. McIlroy, seeing the issue as a challenge to be tackled, took the clubs home while waiting on parts from the VA after work and made small adjustments until he was able to get Anderson’s swings as natural-feeling as possible.
“Taking time out of my personal day means nothing because this is something I wanted to get perfect,” McIllroy says. “This is an absolute honor for me. This is what I live for, something simple that makes all the difference for him.”
Now, Anderson is far from ready to compete, he says. But he’ll keep playing until he is.
“To me, it’s huge mostly for my mentality,” Anderson says. “I was used to working 18-hour days nonstop, and I loved it … But once it was taken away due to actions I cannot control, it changed [my] mentality … The range is always open and golf courses are always open, so there’s always something I can do now. It’s mental freedom.”