With a cherry-red Patriot Golf Day cap atop his head and a faded Air Force headcover in his golf bag, it is clear to everyone at Kinloch Golf Club that Bob Coleman is a military man.
A 1966 graduate of The Citadel, the prestigious military college in Charleston, S.C., Coleman saw 28 years of service in the United States Air Force, including three tours of combat deployment in Vietnam and Turkey, nearly 1,000 hours of combat flight and time in 15 different fighter aircraft. A retired USAF colonel since 1994, he was also able to put his military experience to good use in his other life-long love – the game of golf.
“(Golf) just gets the adrenaline going,” said Coleman, a 66-year-old first-time competitor from The Villages, Fla. “It’s kind of like flying.”
Coleman was able to marry his two loves right from the start. While at The Citadel, he played golf for four years and was a member of the 1963-64 squad that captured the Southern Conference Championship. He was even named Golfer of the Year at his alma mater in 1965.
However, Coleman’s college experience went far beyond today’s definition of a student-athlete.
“It molds character,” said Coleman of his time at The Citadel. “I think if I would have gone to a civilian college, I probably would not have had the structure and the leadership and the guidance that I needed at that time. It did wonders.”
Coleman took that character and put it to use as a career military officer. Upon graduation, Coleman went into active duty with USAF and, like so many other young men in the late 1960s, was almost immediately deployed overseas.
Three wartime deployments sent him to Da Nang Air Base and Tuy Hoa Air Base during the Vietnam War, and Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey, during the Gulf War. His call sign of “Bullit” was attributed to his expert marksmanship. It’s a nickname he uses to this day.
Coleman’s first tour in Vietnam also brought what he considers a unique experience among his fellow military personnel – learning of the birth of his oldest son, Rob.
“I had just finished my last bombing run,” said Coleman, “and we had safetied up and were talking to the forward air controller, and he said, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re a new dad!’ And I said, ‘Oops!’
“I'm lucky I didn’t crash, because you can’t imagine what that feels like.”
Though he was never able to pick up his golf clubs while stationed overseas, Coleman did his best to keep his game up during his time at home in the States, when he was able to get in a round a week – two, if he was lucky. He accumulated 13 club championships at eight different Air Force bases, including three victories at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., and two at England Air Force Base in Alexandria, La.
Since his 1994 retirement, Coleman has enjoyed much more time on the golf course. He has captured several club championships in Florida and Alabama, is a regular on Florida’s senior golf circuit and has teamed with his sons, Rob and Greg, in several father-son tournaments.
However, it’s the mental challenge he faces each time he walks onto the course that keeps this military lifer in love with the game.
“If you have a basic golf swing, which I think I have, it’s mostly between the ears, how much you want to do it,” said Coleman. “That’s why golf is so great – it’s a character builder.”
Christina Lance is a coordinator of championship communications for the USGA. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.