These days, former President George W. Bush pretty rigorously avoids the spotlight. As he recently told Good Morning America, “Listen, I loved being president, but there’s a time to get off the stage. I had eight years in the White House and I gave it my all — and I’m through.”

In other words, he doesn’t care to throw his weight around for political purposes. Instead, he spends his days doing something he very rarely did during his presidency — golfing. In eight years as president, Bush played just 24 rounds of golf. Now, he’s able to play about three rounds a week — and has a +7 handicap to prove it. Not bad.

But, today, golf isn’t just a hobby for the former president: It’s also a way to thank the men and women he sent to war. For months, G.W. has been in the process of planning the Warrior Open, a two-day golf tournament for U.S. service members who were severely wounded in the global war on terror. The 36-hole competition at Las Colinas Country Club near Dallas, Tex., opened today — and, to judge by the pictures from the practice round, the wounded warriors are ready for Round One.

Competition is stiff: To qualify, veterans had to have at least a +20 handicap.

“I’ve never really been to an Open before; I do a lot of scrambles,” Sergeant Brian Saaristo said in a video. “I hope my skill level is up to this, but I wanted to see where my elevation of the golf game had gone and being at a tournament like this is going to see if I have the ‘get up and go’ to do it.”

But no matter where each of the 20 veterans in the tournament falls on the leaderboard, they’ll reap benefits to participating. As Bush explains in his welcome letter to the competition, “Golf is an important part of the rehabilitation process for many of those seriously injured on the front lines. The sport provides an opportunity to leave the hospital environment and get some fresh air. It requires focus and concentration, which can help take the mind off the recovery process and the pain. It provides a way to hone movement and motor skills.”

Saaristo said he’s also looking forward to the chance to reconnect with old friends.

Then, too, the tournament represents a chance to earn a quick compliment from a former president. During the practice round, Bush sized up a drive with a brief, “You crushed that thing” before clapping one of the warriors on the back. It’s the kind of personal, humble attention Bush seems particularly effective at paying people.

“I love these guys,” Bush told GMA. “To the extent that I can help them, I will. To the extent that I can herald their courage, I will.”

The veterans seem equally appreciative of Bush. In the GMA interview, Bob Woodruff tried to deflect the former president’s attention from the veterans themselves, reminding the president that many of those who have served in the war aren’t sure it was a war worth fighting. But Bush responded simply, with an answer born of his experience interacting one-on-one with the Warrior Open golfers and others.

“I haven’t one veteran tell me that,” he said. “They tell me they were proud to serve.”

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