Don’t Bet Against Jesse: The Double-Amputee War Veteran has Overcome Injury and Addiction on his Way to a Winning Career in Golf
Jesse Williamson doesn’t mean to attract attention, and certainly not sympathy, by showing off his twin prosthetic legs. True, he wears shorts most of the time out on the golf course. But “that’s just because it’s hard to take my legs on and off when I wear pants. Pants are a pain in the butt.”
That’s about the closest thing to a complaint you’ll ever hear from Williamson, the sweetest-swinging double amputee you’re likely to encounter out on the course. As in 9-handicap sweet. And that’s a real handicap, not weighted in any way to compensate for his war injury. “It was down to a 5,” he says, “but life happens. I got married, have two stepkids. Just haven’t been playing as much.”
To Hell and Back
Life decidedly happened to Jesse in 2008, when as a young Marine just three and a half months into a tour of duty in Afghanistan, the Humvee he was riding in drove over an IED (Improvised Explosive Device).The explosion launched Jesse 60 feet into the air. Four servicemembers with him didn’t survive.
Years of treatment and rehab ensued. Like any normal young man would, Jesse wanted desperately to save his legs. He held off eight months before assenting to his first amputation, then another 18 months before the second. “By then I was like, ‘All right, let’s cut this one off too and move on.’”
But moving on wasn’t all that smooth. He started abusing opioid painkillers. “I was already numb but trying to numb myself even more. I’d lost a bunch of friends. My main purpose had been being a Marine, and that was taken from me.”
Jesse was lucky enough, though, to have a support network that saw what was happening. His mother called one of his old first sergeants, Nick Hamm, who talked him into coming down to California from his family home in Washington. He did two stays in drug rehab, and the second one, a nine-month stint, stuck. “I haven’t used drugs since 2016.”
It was then that a clean Jesse got introduced to golf by a friend. “I used to think golf was boring,” he says. Jesse grew up playing baseball and football and racing dirt bikes “But once I started taking golf seriously, it got a lot more fun.”
By taking golf seriously, Jesse got good. Really good. He attended the Golf Academy of America, then the Professional Golfers Career College and then enrolled at the University of Arizona, where he started an adaptive golf program.
“It’s basically about getting folks out of the house and doing something positive,” he says. “We work with blind people, amputees, paralyzed … all different types of injuries. We try to get them out and enjoy golf and get a college degree at the same time.”
Amputees make up a particular subset. “We kind of feed off each other. It’s fun to play with someone who’s better than you. One buddy who’s a triple amputee kicks my butt. Pretty crazy.”
All of that very logically led Jesse to connect with the On Course Foundation, which assists wounded, injured and sick veterans, retired and active, with their physical and mental recoveries. Launched in the U.K., the foundation now offers free programs in 15 U.S. states that teach golf and golf business skills. On Course then places members in industry jobs with companies such as Callaway and Invited (formerly ClubCorp), and at golf courses, country clubs and resorts.
“Jesse is one of many On Course Foundation poster models,” says John Simpson, founder of the foundation. “Golf helped him overcome extreme odds and took him from the depths of existence to [being] a productive member of his family, the golf community and society.”
Robot Man to the Kids
Jesse’s work with On Course helped him secure a job at Black Gold GC in Yorba Linda, where he manages the cart operation and teaches golf to kids ages 4 to 11. “They’re pretty cool,” he says. “They call me Robot Man.”
The foundation also fosters camaraderie and mutual support among wounded veterans. “We check on each other throughout the year,” Williamson says. “We travel to play golf together and talk about golf, our lives and coping with post-military stresses.”
The On Course Foundation also sponsors the Simpson Cup, a Ryder Cup-like annual tournament that features teams of injured servicemen from the U.S. and U.K. Williamson, with his 5 handicap, made the 2019 team as a captain’s pick and got to play St Andrews. “It was pretty cool to experience the course where golf started.” His team, though, lost to the Brits that year.
Then, in 2021, Jesse qualified outright for the team, which hosted the tournament at The Creek in New York. “I love getting to play golf with great people, with all the nerves of competition,” he says. “I play better under pressure. Always have. Me and my buddy were down two with three holes to play. I won 16, then stuck one five feet from the pin on 17 and we beat them on 18 to win our match for the U.S.”
Then, in singles, Jesse was down one with two to play. You guessed it: “I won both.” U.S. over the U.K., 13–5.
Jesse’s next move is to complete his college degree —and the PGA Management Program — and to nab an assistant pro job somewhere. And to get his PGA Card.
Anyone care to bet against him?