The Exchange Celebrating Service: Fort Jackson is a special confluence of past and present for Jay Milinichik, an Open Division World Long Drive hitter who was medically retired from the United States Marine Corps in 2014.
While many sports celebrate military and veteran service members, World Long Drive this week has taken an extra step by adding a Military Division to its Tour event from Fort Jackson outside of Columbia (S.C.), which Milinichik believes is the start of something great.
“Having this event here at Fort Jackson, on an Army base is a really awesome thing,” says Milinichik. “People want to see what military members can do, and to see them have fun with it and raise awareness for The Exchange, and what they’ve done for all the [military] bases. They’ve created a town inside a town, and when people look back on this in 10 years they’re going to appreciate it even more. Because they’re giving military members an opportunity to come out and compete, have fun, and enjoy what they love doing.”
In addition to competing in the Military Division at Fort Jackson – which will be a part of GOLF Channel’s live telecast on Tuesday (5 p.m. ET), Milinichik is a regular in the World Long Drive Open Division. He earned a spot in the Military Division by winning a qualifying event at Fort Hood (Texas), one of 12 qualifiers at U.S. Army installations in March-April that were open to all active, reserve and retired service members across all branches of the military.
The road for Milinichik has been a trying one, having undergone numerous combat-related surgeries. When he lists them off, it’s hard not to marvel over his competitive capabilities in World Long Drive.
“I’ve had 23 surgeries in my life. I have two fused disks in my neck, and two in my lower back, along with a rod in my ankle and a plate in my wrist.”
He’s endured several additional injuries that are a result of competing in World Long Drive, which has left him behind the eight ball in many ways in comparison to his long drive peers.
“I tore my bicep and my tricep at the Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun [in May 2018]. I also injured my rib, so I took five months off. These guys have been training the whole off-season, and I’ve just been healing. My first competition back was in March, and now there’s no pain.”
Despite all his injuries and surgeries, Milinichik is quick to dismiss any semblance of an excuse for when he doesn’t perform up to his own standards.
“It’s been a lot of surgeries, but I don’t use it as a crutch. At Ak-Chin [last month] I was afraid to hurt myself, and [this week] was my first real go on a decent stage.”
Outside of long drive competitions, he has kept busy through appearances at corporate and charity events. And in January, he launched a new brand, Long Drive for Heroes, along with retired Major Ed Pulido, a senior vice president with Folds of Honor.
“A lot of these [competitors], they have jobs. Will [Hogue] is a firefighter, Mitch [Grassing] works for a sales company traveling all over the world, and sponsorships can be hard to come by out here. So, they’re footing their own dime to compete and to entertain, and I want to help them out because they’ve helped me out.”
Long Drive for Heroes currently supports more than a dozen World Long Drive hitters, and the brand also lends financial assistance to Folds of Honor, helping to provide scholarships to kids of disabled and fallen service members. To-date, Milinichik and Long Drive for Heroes have already raised more than $35,000.
“I’m a little overwhelmed by it all, because it happened so fast. I mean, I’ve managed Marines, and I’ve managed employees at Home Depot. When I got out of the Marines, my first job was as an HR manager at Home Depot, but I’ve never managed individuals with different personalities that aren’t being told what to do and how to do it.”
After being eliminated from the Open Division in Fort Jackson on Sunday, Milinichik turns his attention toward Tuesday’s Military Division, and will aim to be amongst the four semifinalists that advance to the live telecast on GOLF Channel at 5 p.m. ET.
“I just want to make a difference in long drive and raise awareness for not only what I do with Long Drive for Heroes, but for the sport.”