ACC’s latest Warrior Open winner, ex-Marine Andrew Bachelder, used golf to recover following deadly helicopter crash in Afghanistan
For Andrew Bachelder, golf represents more than just a game. In some ways, the retired Marine Staff Sergeant believed the sport saved his life.
“If I wasn’t on the golf course I don’t really know where I would be or what I would be doing,” said Bachelder, who will play in the American Century Championship July 19-24 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. “Golf pulled me out of the rut and got me back onto the track that I was capable of — and made me the person I was capable of being.”
Bachelder punched his ticket to Lake Tahoe by winning the 2015 Warrior Open last October in Texas. In his third year playing in the 36-hole tournament that features military veterans severely wounded since Sept. 11, 2001, the Texan achieved his objective of winning it all.
“I’m just over the moon for it,” Bachelder said of playing in the ACC. “That was my whole goal when they first started the program — that’s what I set as my goal and I achieved it. I can’t wait — I’m excited.”
Bachelder played two rounds at Edgewood Tahoe in mid-June, his first time on the course. It wasn’t the ex-Marine’s first visit to the South Shore, where he lived for eight months after graduating high school in 2000.
“The scenery at Lake Tahoe is like none other,” Bachelder said. “When you put those snow-capped mountains on a clear blue lake, then you throw a golf course between 100-foot pines, I don’t know how much better it can get than that.”
The 34-year-old Bachelder says his favorite part about golf is the ups and downs that characterize the sport. Off the course, the wounded warrior certainly has had his fair share of both.
SURVIVING THE CRASH — AND LIFE AFTER
In 2009 while serving in Afghanistan, Bachelder was involved in a midair collision between two U.S. helicopters that killed four of the six Marines involved. Bachelder was one of two survivors, but suffered a number of severe injuries after being thrown from the helicopter.
The injuries included a broken right tibia and fibula, pelvic fracture, broken hip, five fractured ribs, a fractured shoulder blade and traumatic brain injury. Bachelder was in the hospital for a month and a half, bedridden for an additional three months and confined to a wheelchair for three months after that — and partook in physical therapy until 2013.
Bachelder had his hip replaced again in 2013 after the initial replacement developed arthritis. Back and hip pain are the only consistent physical reminders of injuries he sustained while serving his country — and pale in comparison to the mental pain he has suffered since the crash.
Following the crash, Bachelder suffered from survivor’s guilt that led to abuse of pain medication and ultimately becoming distant from his family. The guilt became so strong that he tried to escape it by attempting suicide in 2012.
“I couldn’t imagine what the families have gone through with this whole tragedy that happened, and it just puts a lot of heavy weight on your heart and on your mind — and makes you go into a shell,” Bachelder said of survivor’s guilt. “There’s no way out of it when you’re in it. If you don’t have structure around your life, then you’ll never get out of it.”
Fortunately for Bachelder, he had structure led by his wife Debi — and that ultimately led to him surviving a dark time. He has since visited the grave sites and families of three of the fallen Marines that died in the crash along with Cpl. Gregory Fleury of Alaska — Capt. Eric Jones, Capt. Kyle Van De Giesen and Capt. David Mitchell.
“That helped heal a lot of wounds — not in the sense that I’m still alive, but to let them know that their sons will never be forgotten,” Bachelder said.
During his recovery following the suicide attempt, Bachelder’s mother told him about the Warrior Open. He submitted an application, was accepted into the tournament and has found solace in golf ever since.
“You have to find something that makes you happy, and if you’re happy you’ll find a way to better your life whenever that time comes,” Bachelder said. “I picked up golf and haven’t put it back down — I got really serious about it.”
GOLFING WITH THE STARS
Bachelder has met a handful of celebrities in recent years, including ACC participants and Hall of Fame NFL receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. He doesn’t think he’ll be overly starstruck at the tournament, but said he’s excited to meet Justin Timberlake, Charles Barkley and Rob Riggle — the actor who was in the Marine Corps Reserve for 23 years.
“It will be really, really cool to play with all these guys,” Bachelder said. “I might be starstruck, but maybe they’ll be starstruck when they see me.”
In Texas, Bachelder routinely hits the links with Chad Pfeifer — the three-time Warrior Open champion and Army veteran that appeared at the ACC in 2014 and 2015. During their rounds back home, the two veterans often discuss Edgewood Tahoe and how to attack it.
“It’s great to play with him because he’s a great guy, on top of being a great golfer,” Bachelder said. “In terms of how to play the course, he’s helped me out a lot.”
Pfeifer, who lost his left leg in Iraq in 2007, parlayed a strong debut at Lake Tahoe to playing in a Web.com Tour event. Bachelder said he’d ultimately like to do the same — play the sport he loves professionally.
“That’s my goal, to strive to be one of the best golfers and make it professionally,” Bachelder said. “However it turns out, I’m always shooting for the stars.”
Bachelder will have his uncle, Dan Bachelder, as his caddy during the tournament — and said there’s no one he’d rather have by his side. The scratch golfer with a 1 handicap has 15-to-1 odds to win the ACC.
“I’ve been practicing a lot,” he said. “Ever since I got the invite, it’s been all about the American Century Championship — that is my focus.”