All-Army golfer competes in Children's Miracle Network Classic
November 21, 2008
By Tim Hipps
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (Army News Service, Nov. 21, 2008) - All-Army golfer Capt. Sunny Ko Mitchell helped two professional golfers support a worthy cause during the Children's Miracle Network Classic at the Shades of Green on Walt Disney World Resort.
Mitchell represented the Army well during her second appearance in the PGA Tour event that allows amateurs to play alongside pros in the first two rounds. She earned the trip to Disney World by winning a three-day tournament at All-Army Golf Camp.
"I was blessed to win and be able to come here," said Mitchell, who also played in the PGA Tour event two years ago. "It's been a first-class experience all the way - one of those lifetime experiences you can't ever give away."
The tourney is played on Disney's Palm and Magnolia courses, which spread across the back and side lawns of the Shades of Green Armed Forces Recreation Center that sits just outside the gates of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
"I'm proud to be a Soldier, and a lot of the people working here are [military] retirees and they're still serving in a different capacity," Mitchell said. "To them, I'm the Army golfer, so I think it's a tremendous honor to represent the Army and the Armed Forces."
Proceeds from tournament ticket sales were donated to the Children's Miracle Network hospitals in Central Florida: Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, both in Orlando, and Shands Children's Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
On Thursday, Mitchell and 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup Team golfer J.B. Holmes combined to shoot 3-under par on the Magnolia Course.
"He's a great golfer, and I wished I could've helped him out a little more," said Mitchell, who improved their score by two strokes. "I could've played better. I was hitting the ball fine off the tee, but my second shots left much to be desired."
In 2006, Mitchell teamed with Woody Austin for a second-round score of 15-under-par, the best round of the day on the Palm Course, so she already knew the ropes around two of Disney's most difficult layouts.
This time, however, her game had good reason for being a little rusty.
"I really haven't played golf but two times since August just because of the nature of my job," explained Mitchell, 31, an Army ROTC recruiting officer at Western Kentucky University who scours high schools and college events in search of scholarship candidates. "I'm on the road a lot, and the job comes first."
During her first round this year, the pros did not know Mitchell was a Soldier.
"They were so focused, that unless they asked, I didn't want to push it on them," she said. The pros said she did not bother them one iota.
"I had a lot of fun," Holmes said. "Sunny's a good girl, and she played pretty well today. She hits the ball a long ways for a girl. She made a couple pars, hit the ball pretty well, hit a few putts that didn't go in, but, obviously, it was a good experience.
"She helped me on a couple of holes. Our team score ended up being 3-under and I shot 1-under, so she helped on three or four shots. She didn't share anything with me about being an All-Army golfer, but that's a big accomplishment. Good for her. She's obviously a good golfer. She came out here and held her own."
Steve Flesch was the other Tour pro in Mitchell's foursome on the first day.
"She's got a great swing, and even more so than that, she's got a great attitude," Flesch said. "We had a lot of fun out there with Sunny today. She was a pleasure to play with and I can see where she's an attribute to the Army.
"She's strong. She hits her tee ball a long way and hits her irons a long way, too. I'm sure she's a little disappointed in her putting, but I think she was more worried about getting out of our way today, which was very nice of her, but I told her on the seventh hole, I said, 'You've got every right to be out here as much as we are, so just slow down, play your game, and have some fun.' I think she played a little bit better after that."
On Friday, Mitchell was paired with two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen. After a 15-minute fog delay, they teed off at 7:10 a.m. on the Palm Course and combined on a round of 7-under-par 65.
"It was quite an adventure," said Mitchell, a 6-handicap golfer who struggled to get her game going in the early-morning mist. "I understood that [Janzen] was playing for his spot in the tournament, but it's been awhile since I've got up that early to play golf."
Mitchell spent some of her down time chatting with Janzen's father, who said he served as a fighter pilot in the Korean War.
"So the military is a big part of Lee's life," she said. "And he was playing phenomenally."
Mitchell praised her commanders, Lt. Col. Mark Powell and Col. Rene Finnegan, for their sporting support.
"They have always supported me with All-Army Golf, as well as this event," Mitchell said. "I talk to high school and college kids all the time, and I tell them there are so many different opportunities in the Army, and All-Army Sports is one of them.
"I talk with coaches all the time about it and tell them most NCAA athletes do not go onto a professional career, so this is another way to go - by joining the Army World Class Athlete Program or the Armed Forces Sports Program."
A three-time All-Army women's golf champion, Mitchell thinks more military leaders need to be sympathetic to their Soldiers' athletic desires.
"It comes down to command support," she said. "For All-Army Golf, it's really only 14 days. Four days of trials. Four days at the Armed Forces Championships. And if you make it to CISM, that's another four or five days.
"I have a saying that, 'If they can't be without you, then it's broke,' but I think there's a stigma that they're afraid of letting someone go. A lot of people think I'm part of the World Class Athlete Program and I constantly travel. I tell them, 'I wish. I'm not.' A lot of people are either afraid to ask [to compete on the All-Army level] or there's not as much support on the command side.
"I wish there was because it's great exposure for the Army to show that as a Soldier you have a myriad of different things that you can do. The biggest thing is just getting the word out there and letting Soldiers know there is an opportunity to try out if they would just apply."
Mitchell did not begin playing golf until her senior year at Robinson High School in Tampa, where the tennis coach refused to allow her to run track while playing on the tennis team.
"I was a pretty decent tennis player, but I should thank coach [Martha] Bennett because she wouldn't let me play tennis and run track," Mitchell explained. "I had to pick, so I said, 'OK, fine, I'll just play golf.' I had never played before, so I didn't really know what I was doing, but it was a blessing because I had great coaches that volunteered and took their time to help me out."
Mitchell did not play golf in college because the University of Tampa did not have a women's team.
"I was on an Army ROTC scholarship, so that was my focus," she said. "I picked golf up again once I got in the Army, but I only played like four times when I was stationed in Korea. Depending on the job I've been in, it's been hit or miss year to year."
The Tour pros at Walt Disney World thought Mitchell was still in college.
"That's quite a compliment since I'm 31 years old," she said with a laugh. "I've been doing a lot of CrossFit. Actually, I'm a Level 1 trainer, and it's kind of what the Army is going to. We've been really focusing on that at Western Kentucky University, and it really helps me out with my stamina. It's kind of like circuit training on steroids."
Mitchell, who has undergone four knee operations, packs an Army-strong build on her 5-foot-5-inch, 147-pound frame.
"When people see that, they say, 'Oh, man, she's pretty big," Mitchell said.
"Actually, I'm not. The power that I have is from the other sports. A lot of girls hit it straight but they have no power, whereas my nemesis is those finesse shots up around the green."