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Female combat veterans find relaxation, support on the links

The game of golf requires patience and understanding, which is why it's become PTSD therapy for some veterans. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports.

Flashbacks and post-traumatic stress from combat were trapping one Ohio female veteran in her home.

Judy Sallerson, whose Army unit was hit by a series of  mortar attacks in Iraq, had been sent to Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington  in 2010 where she recovered for two years. For nearly a year of that time she didn't do much at all and stayed inside, she said.

But with the help of a therapist, Sallerson finally started to venture out and even signed up to be a mentor in a local court.

 “I felt like I couldn’t go anywhere because I was afraid someone would see and judge me,” said Sallerson.

Then, a friend invited her to play golf in a veterans group. That’s when she met former professional golfer Renee Powell, who formed the first female chapter of a PGA Foundation program called H.O.P.E. (Helping our Patriots Everywhere) to teach veterans the game.

Powell brought the women together at her home course, Clearview Golf Club, in East Canton, Ohio.

They started learning the basics, how to hold the club and hit the ball. But mostly, the women were talking and helping each other out.

“I can tell you I was pretty miserable — depressed — really searching for somebody. Searching for something," Sallerson said. “I think I’d still be searching. This really brought me out of my shell.”

When the prescribed five weeks of golf instruction were over, the women decided to keep their group together. And now Clearview Hope continues as a support group for female combat veterans.

Every week when the weather is warm, the woman — who served in conflicts including Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — grab their golf clubs and hit the links for relaxation, fellowship and support.

 “I think there needs to be more support for women veterans,” Sallerson said. “This is the only program that I know of – that’s for women.”

Some only recently returned from combat and find the serene green of the course a pleasant change.

“Golf is so therapeutic ... but very calm, very therapeutic — you're out with nature,” Powell said.

Powell’s father was a World War II veteran who started the Clearview Course in 1946 when he came home from Europe. Bill Powell, according to the PGA of America, is the only African-American to build, own and operate a golf course in the United States.

“He's the one that taught me the game of golf,” Powell said. “So I'm able to teach them and he would've been proud of every one of the women.”

When teaching golf to the veterans, Powell emphasizes though it can be frustrating, it’s a game of patience.

“Golf is just kinda like life,” said Christina Turner, another Iraq veteran and member of the group. “When you’re on, you’re absolutely on ... and then you’ll feel like you’re doing the exact same thing you did when you hit the last ball and it goes nowhere.”

“You have to be very patient. You have to be very understanding. You have to step back and understand the grand scheme of things...” Turner said.