Grand Haven’s Rooney Gets More Action Than He Bargained for at the Sony Open


Dan Rooney is the golf professional at Grand Haven Golf Club and tells the tale of his trip to the Sony Open in Hawaii earlier this month.

Aloha Patriots,

It started with a call from a good friend of mine, fellow PGA Professional Greg Nichols: ?Noonan, how’d you like to come over to Hawaii in January and give a couple talks about the Folds of Honor at the Sony Open??

Hmm?let me think?25 degrees and snowing in Tulsa?75 and sunny in Honolulu?

?Yeah, I guess I can make it.?

My Tuesday talk was scheduled for the Junior Skills Challenge, featuring Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly, Dean Wilson, and Tad Fujikera. I would be kicking-off the event for the Sony Open, and about a thousand people were expected to attend. But the crowd was anticipating a skills challenge, not a surprise attack from 15,000 feet.

Life is short. This ain’t no dress rehearsal. My wife Jacqy and I are kindred spirits in that regard. We have a bucket list of ?must dos.? Skydiving, holding a spot near the top, was about to be crossed off the list.

Arriving at Pearl Harbor around noon, I was introduced to my host for the day, Skydive Hawaii. Meeting the demonstration team was like stepping into the movie Point Break — none of them were wearing shoes and all of them greeted me with the ?shocka? (hang-loose sign). ?Ready to get some air??

?I think so?.? I said, not exactly inspired with confidence.

I would soon find out that the experience level and professionalism of the Skydive Hawaii team doesn’t match their casual appearance. Collectively, the group has over 100,000 jumps. They’ve filmed movies and trained the Special Forces. These guys are experienced. Still, our demonstration was not a typical jump. In the world of dropping bombs, we classify such maneuvers as ?danger close.? That’s when you have to hit the target precisely because of the risk of collateral damage. In this case, we?d be landing on the 18th green in a heavily populated area filled with grand stands and beer stands. In hindsight, I suppose you could do a lot worse than death by beer stand.

In a fighter pilot-like fashion, the team briefed us on the jump. They discussed time and altitude deconfliction, wind direction, and jump location. They covered the possible emergencies and the landing time of exactly 2:55 pm. And finally, they went over the filming of the jump. A team of 3 dedicated jumpers with high definition cameras mounted on their helmets was tasked with capturing the event. ?Great,? I joked. ?If this goes wrong, I’m going to end up on Faces of Death.?

Richard, a veteran of 16,000 jumps, briefed me on procedure as we hopped on our ride, a Cessna Caravan complete with a Hawaiian paint scheme. Taking off, we soaked in the brilliance of the islands. The visibility was so good you could see Maui!

As we arrived over the jump zone, we still had 15 minutes to loiter over the target. The jump door was opened and the team motioned for me to look at the golf course below. This was the first time I started getting nervous. No turning back.

?5 minutes!?

Skydive Hawaii dutifully prepared us for the jump. They focused on the task at hand while still managing to ease the tension by slipping in a timely remark. ?Remember, safety 3rd,? shouted Team Leader J.C. The jumpers made the last minute safety checks, lowered their goggles, placed their hands one on top of another, and repeated their mantra. ?Let’s get some air!

?10 seconds!?

The first 4 jumpers got in place, and in an instant, they were gone.? I caught myself struggling to breathe from a combination of nerves and the thin air at altitude. One of many lessons learned I have learned? is being brave does not mean you are not afraid ? a sentiment coming in handy staring out an open door in the sky, highly aware and just seconds from jumping out of a perfectly good airplane!

Climbing into the doorway, I clutched the rail ? literally hanging out the side of the plane. It was sort of like standing backward on a diving board, getting ready to do a back flip. Only instead of springing 3 feet into the air and splashing into a warm pool, I was on the verge of hurtling 15,000 feet straight to the ground.

And then we were flying.

Screaming toward the earth at 120 mph. One flip. Another flip. Then we stabilize. Hands out. Backs arched. Wind rushing, speed thrilling. The most intoxicating mixture of freedom and fear. Suddenly my eyes catch a blue streak. JC is chasing us down. He looks like the terminator with his helmet-cam. Slamming on the breaks, he stops within 3 feet of us, staying in formation for the rest of the free fall. An amazing display.

Approaching 4,500 feet, the 18th green is getting big very fast. A tap on the shoulder signals the imminent deployment of the parachute. Let’s pray it works. The moment of truth.

Opening shock. Are we in an ascent? JC disappears toward Wialea. Looking up, I see the good chute. The fear, the wind, the noise disappear. Replaced by pure peace. Virtual silence. A ?now? moment. The worries of the world completely absent. What a gift. An extraordinary view of the aqua-blue Pacific Ocean flanked with the lush, emerald-green Diamond Head Peaks.

The crowd cheers as Richard guides us through the grand stands, and we land like a butterfly with sore feet. I even manage to avoid the $5.00 fine assessed for falling on my ass.

It was an incredible experience topped off with the opportunity to share the message of the Folds of Honor Foundation. We’ve now raised over 5.3M and awarded 800+ scholarships. And thanks to great citizens like my buddy Greg Nichols, and my brothers in arms at Skydive Hawaii, we added a thousand more wingmen to the mission.