The Patriot Award is presented to a Colorado PGA Professional who personifies patriotism through the game of golf and demonstrates unwavering commitment and dedication to the men and women who have valiantly served and protected the United States of America.
Paul Surniak, PGA Director of Instruction at Cheyenne Shadows Golf Club at Fort Carson, with 12 years of service at the Club, is the recipient of the inaugural 2021 Patriot Award for his support to the United States Armed Forces and its Active-Duty personnel and Veterans to learn and play golf. The PGA HOPE, the Salute Military Golf Association, where he is the chapter head, and the Wounded Warrior Project promotions are created and/or coordinated by Surniak, including social media, digital media, and radio spots. Along with his large Junior program on base for military families, Surniak coordinates individualized classes for active-duty soldiers from the hospital’s pain clinic, which has become a popular rehabilitation program at Fort Carson. His PGA HOPE programs have waiting lists every season. Surniak is passionate about the morale and welfare of wounded warriors, disabled Veterans, and their families and has worked with national Veteran charities. Surniak is a previous winner of the Colorado PGA REACH Pillar Award for Supporting Our Military.
What does it mean to you to receive the Patriot Award?
I’m very honored because it’s been an extreme pleasure to work with the military and their families on Fort Carson, especially the wounded soldiers who’ve given so much. It’s an extreme honor and I’m grateful for it. Everyone at Fort Carson has been enthusiastic about participating in programs like PGA HOPE. So, when [the program] was first discussed, I went to Eddie [Ainsworth, PGA] and said, ‘I want in on this thing, it’s perfect for what we do at Fort Carson.’ Eddie looked at me and said, ‘Paul, I’ve got some bad news for you because I’ve already volunteered you.’ So that’s how we got started and it’s been a great pleasure and privilege to work with these guys.
What sparked your passion to want to work with the military?
It was sort of a fluke accident. I was getting ready to go on the Senior Tour and my sponsor backed out due to the 2008 market crash. I wasn’t doing anything else at the time so I started practicing at Fort Carson, and Frank, the Head Pro and GM at the time, found out who I was and asked if I could start an instructional program to which I said I’d love to because my other passion has always been teaching. When I found out about the HOPE programs, Wounded Warriors, SMGA (Salute Military Golf Association), etc., some of them came to me and asked me to start programs. It’s always been a challenge to teach someone who has limitations or restrictions. It became a real challenge for me because it’s a different type of instruction, so I just really grew to love that type of instruction. It just sort of happened by mistake believe it or not, but it’s worked out well for me!
What are tools you use in your profession that help you with your success?
I’m big on technology. I’ve used everything from Trackman to highspeed cameras to pressure plates. If it’s out there, I’ve tried it if I think it’s going to help my student get a feel for what I’m trying to teach. I keep my mind open trying to figure out: ‘Ok what’s the next thing out there that can help someone swing a golf club.’
As it relates to golf, what is the best piece of advice you have received and what advice would you give
If I was going to teach another instructor how to teach someone with limitations: first of all is patience. You try to convey what you’re teaching in a very understandable way. For example, those military persons with traumatic brain injuries struggle to grasp concepts, and when you’re working with someone who’s missing limbs, a good understanding of how the body works is important. Be patient. Have an open mind. Don’t think there’s just one way to play golf. There are dozens of ways to hit a golf ball. Keep learning.
Share something about yourself that others may not know:
I tell my students a lot of stories about talking with Tour players or playing around the world in Asia, South America, and Europe. All my students say I should write a book! I’ve taught everyone from Tour players to people who’ve never picked up a club to celebrities. The whole experience has been a great journey and I’ve enjoyed it. My brother, who may be more financially successful than me, has said that he made all the money, but I had all the fun. When I’m not golfing, I’m fishing. Everything from fly fishing in the Rocky Mountains to deep-sea fishing in Florida. I like to travel too; I just came back from Thailand. I also spent seven years on the Long Drive circuit, as a six-time Colorado Long Drive Champion.
What are the qualities you possess that you believe supported you in receiving this award?
People say I communicate well. I’m a fundamentals instructor which means I teach good, sound fundamentals. I explain my lessons on a simple basis, nothing really technical so that anyone I’m teaching can understand. Also, the military hospital pain clinic brings me patients to work with, and with that, I’ve had to learn how the body reacts and moves. It’s a challenge to figure out how I can help this person play golf. I’ve always been eager to learn, and my students have probably taught me more than I taught them. I love teaching someone who has trouble swinging and teaching them how to put the club on the back of the ball. I’m constantly learning so I can help as many people as I can.
What is your proudest moment as a golf professional?
It’s been a pleasure to work with the people at Fort Carson, especially the ones that have come back later and told me how much it meant to them. In 2015, I was featured on a CBS special. One of my students (Brandon Adam) featured is a dual amputee and was near suicide. It makes you feel good knowing you’ve affected someone in a positive way like that.