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Jim Meehan: Spokane pro Chris Runyan earns well-deserved PGA Patriot Award

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 1, 2020

Chris Runyan was playing in the Inland Empire chapter pro-am at Deer Park in June when he received an incoming call from an unfamiliar area code.

The Spokane pro thought it was just another unsolicited sales pitch, but his opinion changed when he checked his voice mail and heard, “Hey, it’s PGA president Suzy Whaley.”

When the two connected later by phone. Whaley informed Runyan that he was the winner of the 2020 PGA Patriot Award.

“Which is beyond comprehension,” Runyan said. “The caveat behind it is you can’t tell anyone for a month (before the press release was issued). I’m the kind of guy that tells the kids what they’re getting for Christmas when I wrap the presents.”

The national award is a well-deserved gift for Runyan, a former Marine whose unwavering dedication to teaching veterans the game and supporting veterans’ causes hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Runyan has won the Inland Empire chapter’s last seven Patriot Awards and six of the last seven from the Pacific Northwest PGA section. The 2020 PGA awards ceremony is scheduled for October in Hartford, Connecticut, but it’s subject to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When he was the pro at Sun Dance in 2011, Runyan started an annual golf tournament dedicated to supporting wounded warriors and assisting veterans in need and their families. He joined forces a few years later with KHQ anchor Dan Kleckner and renamed the tournament the Dan Kleckner Golf Classic.

The 2020 tournament is Aug. 14-15 at Downriver. Last year’s event raised $87,000 for 23 local programs.

Runyan developed Vets on the Green, an adaptive golf program, in 2013 to introduce, or in many cases, reintroduce golf to veterans. He teaches injured veterans different swing techniques or sets them up with specialized equipment.

In 2015, Runyan completed training to become a certified adaptive instructor for the PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program – and then recruited nearly 70 sectional pros to complete the training.

“I never started the programs I did for the awards,” said Runyan, a GOLFTEC instructor. “I wanted to give back to the men and women that I knew best. Being a Marine Corps vet, I know how to talk to them, act around them, say stuff to them. It’s more about the camaraderie and using golf to build relationships.”

Good luck finding a more qualified Patriot Award candidate.

“He’s just got such a huge heart,” Downriver pro Steve Conner said. “He worked for us at Downriver and then went into the Marines. It holds a special place for him. Just a very generous guy. A lot of people think a lot of Chris. Veterans think the world of him.”

Runyan returns the favor, in words and deeds. The Shadle Park High product, continuing a legacy of relatives who have served in the military, became a Marine at age 20 with a goal of piloting helicopters. His plans changed when he was injured in the mid-1990s, so he went to Plan B.

“My two dreams were flying helicopters or golf,” he said. “ I said, ‘OK, I’ll do my second dream.’ ”

He worked at Sun Dance, Indian Canyon, Downriver, Priest Lake and Prairie Falls. He credits Conner and longtime area pro Gary Lindeblad for their guidance through the years. Runyan joined GOLFTEC in part because it gives him “more free time to work with veterans programs.”

One of those programs unfolds every Tuesday morning when Runyan, a retired colonel and a few veterans wolf down Carl’s Jr. hamburgers and talk about whatever is on their minds.

Runyan has so much more he wants to do.

“I have a hundred ideas in my head that I’d like to get out to Spokane, the Seattle area, Portland, Montana,” he said. “The biggest thing is to use golf as a rehab tool.”

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