After serving his country on two tours of Iraq, Damien Jordan turned to golf to help deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. After a decade-long battle, he’s now the Victorian PGA champion, has a two-year ticket on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia and just became a father for the fourth time. By Brad Clifton. Photography by Paul Harris
LIKE many before and after him, life could have panned out so differently for Damien Jordan, a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment-turned PGA Professional.
Standing in the Iraqi desert wielding a F88 Austeyr assault rifle, sweat trickling down his sand-blasted face and barely able to gather his own thoughts among the deafening percussion of enemy mortar shells and improvised explosive devices around him, Jordan couldn’t help but wonder if this day was going to be his last.
“You shouldn’t be thinking it but you just don’t know what’s around the corner when you’re in a place like that,” Jordan says from the comfort of the practice green at Thirteenth Beach Golf Club, host of this year’s Vic Open.
If only he knew. If only he knew then what he knows now – that he would embark on a second trip to the war-torn Middle East and live to tell the tale, albeit in as little detail as possible. Who could blame him?
On his first tour, in 2003, Jordan was a machine-gunner in the infantry battalion, a young soldier who was blinded by patriotism and gave up a promising boxing career to serve his country, just like his father and grandfather before him. The motivation? “I thought, Blokes my age have done it before, why should I be any different?” Jordan says. “The experience quickly made me realise how lucky we are here. There’s no place like Australia … it’s worth fighting for, no matter what the cost.”
On the second tour, in 2006, Jordan returned to Iraq as a scout, deployed on Operation Falconer (later Operation Catalyst) that would expose him to scenes of brutality that most of us will only ever see in movies. “That second tour was where I got caught in some pretty heavy contact (combat),” he says. “I was very lucky to come home. When you sign up you pray that you’ll get an opportunity to use all your training but when it happens, when you actually find yourself in conflict with the enemy, you think, I was just in (combat). Luckily the training kicks in and as soon as those first shots ring out, you react without even thinking about your life.”
Such heroism comes at a cost, however, and for Jordan that came in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder and a marriage breakdown – one of the untold statistics of army life, according to the 36-year-old devoted father of four.
“Divorce rates in the Defence Force are through the roof,” he says. “It takes such a toll on you, mentally and physically. You come home after fighting and it becomes hard to snap out of that mentality and adjust to normal life again.”
Along with prescription medication, which he says he’s likely to take for the rest of his life to help with the “demons” of war, Jordan needed a career change. Boxing and pulling beers in a pub didn’t fit the brief. He needed something outdoors, something with fresh air to help clear the mind, something where he could harness his aggression and use it for the better.
He knew it was time to dust off the golf clubs.
Trained for the tour life
Jordan’s parents introduced him to golf as a junior at Terranora Lakes Country Club in northern New South Wales, and it didn’t take long for his advanced hand-eye coordination to shine through. But just when any thoughts of a career in the game threatened to turn serious, his interests shifted. At 17 he tried his hand at boxing and quickly asserted himself in the ring, knocking out the Australian light-heavyweight champion at the time.
“I had a few fights and it got to the stage where I thought about turning professional,” recalls the then-fledgling middleweight who stood 191 centimetres and tipped the scales at a wiry 71 kilograms. (His army training now has him at 98kg!)
But just as the bell was about to ring on a new career, Jordan’s interests shifted again.
“I remember having a conversation with Dad and telling him how much I really wanted to join the army. He was incredibly supportive of the idea, so I enlisted.”
When Jordan returned home from his second stint in the Middle East he faced the most difficult decision of his life. “I weighed up what I really wanted to do and it was hard because I was qualified to shoot at people but I wasn’t really qualified at anything else,” he says. “Bar work wasn’t going to cut it so I started practising my golf again. I practised as hard as I could and entered as many amateur events as possible. I managed to win a lot of events because I practised harder than anyone. Then I had a crack at Q-school and everything sort of fell into place from there.”
His coach and junior golf mate, Ben Cronk, can attest to Jordan’s thirst for hard work. “Ever since our junior days together, Damien was that kid who was more determined to win than anyone else,” recalls Cronk. “When he got back from his army duties he rang me straight away to say he was getting back into his golf. I knew there and then what I was going to get from him in terms of commitment.”
Despite no longer answering to a drill sergeant, Jordan would be up at dawn, bed made sprucely, clubs polished, golf clothes carefully laid out, and then it was off to the golf course to hit balls at “0600 hours”.
Such military-inspired discipline would quickly see him obtain a handicap of plus-6 and dominate amateur golf along the Queensland coast.
“As his coach, my job was to really understand why Damien was so good and not worry too much about changing a swing that was clearly working,” Cronk says. “We talked a lot about ball flight and how he could adapt this to different courses and different conditions. As far as coaching students goes, I would definitely put Damien in the ‘easy’ basket.”
Cronk’s keep-it-simple game plan – which included minor grip adjustments – proved a masterstroke. Jordan would go on to win five events on the national pro-am circuit in 2016 and seal top spot on its Order of Merit (OOM). He would also finish inside the top-60 on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia OOM to lock away his tour card.
Natural ability aside, it was evident that Jordan’s experiences in the Middle East had helped him acclimatise to the heat of the battle in the pro ranks. Mentally, he can control his nerves and knows when to pull the trigger (quite literally). He’s also physically capable of pushing his body to its limits like no one else on tour. The first Digger to win the Defence Force National Championship, Jordan reveals: “In Iraq we were constantly drinking water and hydrating because we had to. Plenty of people died over there by not drinking enough, especially when you’re stationed in one of the labs where it can get up to 60°C inside at its hottest.”
No fear in the firing line
By the end of 2016 the penny dropped that Jordan was a class above his national pro-am competition, says Cronk.
“He just looked in another league and there’s no doubt his winning ways came back to his military background.”
It makes perfect sense. The motto of the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment is Second To None.
“Damien’s definitely brought that attitude to golf. He’s fearless, not like a lot of the young guys who aren’t game to play certain shots under pressure,” Cronk adds. “With Damien, he sees shots others can’t and he’s not afraid to hit them because the outcome doesn’t worry him.”
It’s a character trait that led Cronk to compare his star student to another determined Aussie doing things his way on tour. “He reminds me a lot of Scott Hend, just the way he goes about it,” says Cronk. “Damien plays with feel and instinct, more so than mathematics. He’s a big feel player who never stops competing. Even at the end of each practice session he’ll throw down the challenge to beat me at my strength, which is wedge play. He’ll play every type of wedge shot in the book to assert his dominance. In doing so he has developed a game around the greens that can handle all sorts of conditions at any given course.”
For all his impressive performances, one question still remained: just how good was this soldier with a full field of world-class pros trying to take him down?
It was time to find out.
Medal of honour
The Damien Jordan story seemed complete when he met his second wife, Amber – the woman he says has been the one steady influence behind his resurgence.
His four children – Ellie, 10, and Ayla, 9, from his previous marriage; and Lexi, 3, and newborn Brody, with Amber – are his greatest achievements and worth more than any golf tournament – a point echoed in his previous line of work.
“When I left for my second tour of Iraq my ex-wife was six months pregnant with Ellie,” says Jordan. “I came back for Ellie’s birth then had to go back overseas for four months. That was the moment that changed everything for me – going back into a war zone knowing I now had a family to look after was incredibly difficult. In the end it cost me my marriage. I wasn’t the nice person I was going to Iraq. It took a good woman that I’ve got now to turn it all around. Amber’s been a big ambassador for me. Without her I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Highlighting how strong a woman she is, Amber gave birth to their son, Brody, on January 30 this year at 2.30pm. The next morning at 6 o’clock, Jordan boarded a flight to Melbourne to compete in the Victorian PGA Championship. “I saw Brody for eight hours in hospital and then I was off to try to kick-start my career,” Jordan says. “For Amber to be 100 per cent supportive of me, given the circumstances, was something I’ll never forget. She just said, ‘Go and play.’”
It was a decision the Jordan family will never regret. Four days later Amber received a phone call from her overwhelmed husband: “I’m the Victorian PGA champion.”
Jordan beat a field at Huntingdale Golf Club that included Olympian Marcus Fraser to chalk up the biggest victory of his career and secure a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour of Australasia, along with a cheque for $15,000.
“All the hard work, all the dedication and all the support from my family and friends paid off,” he says. “Ironically, after all the time away and sacrifices I’ve made to get to this point, the reward (the two-year exemption) will allow me to spend more time at home with the family and better plan my work commitments around them for a change.”
Jordan also picked up a surprise fan at Huntingdale, the very man he beat for the title in Web.com Tour veteran Aron Price.
“He played ridiculously well. I was waiting for him to feel the pressure but he never did,” Price says. “Maybe he was drawing on his military experience, who knows? I was actually unfamiliar with Damien’s story until I played with him on the final two days. But I take my hat off to anyone who serves for their country. Having lived in the United States for the past 15 years, I’ve developed a great appreciation for the military and the sacrifices they make on so many levels to maintain the freedom we take for granted. I wish him all the best, on and off the course.”
At ease, soldier
Life can be a riddle. For a man who didn’t hesitate once on the battlefield, Jordan did start to question his ability on the fairways. “You do wonder whether you’re good enough,” he admits. “Anyone who’s made it in golf knows it’s a different ball game going from the amateur ranks to the pro tour. Everyone you compete against can win. It’s cut-throat and definitely isn’t for everyone.”
Those doubts were erased for good at Huntingdale. Put it down to the steely soldier in him when Jordan describes his winning putt as “getting the monkey off the back” rather than a joyous occasion. “I proved to myself I can compete at the highest level, regardless of what’s put in my way,” he says. “After what I’ve been through, I don’t think anything will ever be tougher than that and it’s definitely helped me face the challenges golf has thrown at me.”
Good friend Jason King predicted success would come Jordan’s way after first touring with him in 2007. “It’s not hard to realise how he manages to see the positives in everything,” says King, who teaches at Sydney’s Moore Park Golf Academy. “He can handle as much pressure as can be dished up in a golf-tournament sense because it obviously pales in comparison to being in a war zone taking enemy fire.”
So what’s next for Jordan? Lifting the Stonehaven Cup at The Australian Golf Club later this year? Qualifying for the lucrative US PGA Tour, perhaps?
No. It’s simply keeping things in perspective and enjoying the freedom he fought so hard for.
“The biggest key for me is knowing I’m just playing a game, win, lose or draw,” he says. “I’ve still got a beautiful family and a hot shower to go home to. Waking up in the morning is a victory for me and if it wasn’t for golf, I don’t know if I’d even be doing that. Golf, Amber and my kids are what kept me going and I can’t thank them enough. Together with my travelling companion Daniel Fox – who's like a brother to me – and all my family and friends, they saved my life and now I’m happy, doing what I really love.”
The Australian Defence Force has a recruitment slogan: It’s a job like no other. Damien Jordan has been there and done that. Now he’s living a life like no other. From Iraq to Indooroopilly, his journey has indeed been second to none.
And, most importantly, he’s now winning his war
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