Rhymes Has Reason to be Pumped for 2022 U.S. Mid-Amateur
When Jesse Rhymes carded a competitive low round of 64 on July 27 at Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Hawaii, to qualify for the 41st U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, it was a defining moment in his burgeoning golf career. With more than 5,700 golfers vying for a spot, just making the 264-player field is a thrilling accomplishment.
As fulfilling as this achievement was for the 20-year U.S. Army veteran, it paled in comparison to the heroism he displayed six years earlier on a rural road outside Olympia, Wash., the state capital. It was an act that earned Rhymes the Soldier’s Medal, the highest award given by the Army for valor in a non-combat situation, and rarely bestowed.
While driving home from officiating a high school basketball game on a rainy January evening, Rhymes was stopped at an intersection when he witnessed a Jeep rear-end another vehicle, then go racing away. Rhymes immediately dialed 911 and stayed in contact with the dispatcher as he tracked the vehicle, which swerved continuously as if the driver was intoxicated. The Jeep eventually left the road and flipped multiple times, landing in a ditch and bursting into flames.
That’s when Rhymes’ military instincts took over. He approached the vehicle, looking for survivors. The driver was wearing a seat belt but was immobilized, so Rhymes crawled through one of the back windows that had been cracked open by the crash.
“My first thought was, please don’t blow up,” said Rhymes.
Amid the shattered glass, severe heat and smoke, Rhymes managed to dislodge the driver from his seat belt and drag him to safety. All of this happened in a matter of minutes. By the time first responders arrived, the entire vehicle was in flames. Without Rhymes’ swift actions, the driver would have been killed.
“I found out later he had gone into diabetic shock,” said Rhymes, 41, of the man he saved, who wished to remain anonymous. “He hadn’t gotten his insulin and we think he was rushing home to get his shot.”
When Rhymes got home that night – he was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord just south of Tacoma – his clothes were covered with blood and he reeked of smoke. His wife, Sally, was despondent to hear that he could have left their family without a father. (His children, Katelyn and Jacob, were 8 and 5 years old, respectively, at the time.) She understood later the magnitude of his actions.
Rhymes tried to keep the incident to himself, but the next day, co-worker Sarah Huynh heard him coughing incessantly and urged him to see a doctor, where he was treated for smoke inhalation. Huynh nominated Rhymes for the Soldier’s Medal, which he received nearly a year later from Major General Thomas James Jr., the commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division at Lewis-McChord.
Rhymes comes from a military background. His father served in the Marines for six years before becoming a police officer. His maternal grandfather also was a Marine who did three tours of duty in Vietnam, and his paternal grandfather was in the Air Force. Another uncle served in the Army.
Rhymes enlisted in 2001, 18 months removed from high school, when he decided he wanted to do something more fulfilling with his life. Before that, he labored at a local golf course and worked at Bluewood Ski Resort in Dayton, Wash.
By coincidence, Rhymes was going through the swearing-in process on 9/11, and the terrorist attacks against the United States delayed his departure for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks by five days. Rhymes will mark 21 years in the Army during Sunday’s second round of stroke play at the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
Rhymes, currently a chief warrant officer 4, served in Qatar from 2002-03, where he met his wife, a Nebraska native who also had enlisted in the Army. He has also been stationed at Guantanamo Bay; Texas (Fort Hood); Washington, D.C.; Monterey, Calif.; and his current post at Schofield Barracks on Oahu. Chief warrant officers are technical specialists, and Rhymes is a special agent with the Army Criminal Investigation Division.
Rhymes briefly dabbled in golf as a youngster, but preferred to race dirt bikes. He did so into his mid-20s until an accident left him with torn ligaments and multiple fractures in his left leg, convincing him to find a less hazardous activity.
Golf became his way to decompress, although he fought a horrible slice. Through trial and error – he has never taken a formal lesson – and the assistance of friends at Fort Hood, his scores started coming down. He first broke 80 in 2010 and nine years later, he broke 70. While stationed in Monterey, he played venues such as Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and the two championship layouts at the former Fort Ord, Bayonet and Black Horse. Earlier this summer, he made a pilgrimage to Scotland to play the Old and New Courses at St. Andrews, along with Prestwick, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
When Rhymes returned to Texas for a second tour at Fort Hood in 2019, Chris Osborne, the pro at The Courses at Clear Creek in Fort Hood, informed him of a weekly game that he should join.
“Typically, when he sees someone the caliber of Jesse, [the pro] will ask if he wants to join the Howard Group,” said Joe Arbaugh, now retired from the Army. Arbaugh, 56, made the 17-hour drive from Texas to caddie for Rhymes, skipping this week’s club championship at Fort Hood to share in his friend’s journey.
In the company of highly competitive players, Rhymes’ game kept trending upward, and he won the 2020 Fort Hood Championship, his first significant title.
After he was stationed in Hawaii in 2021, Rhymes attempted USGA qualifying, earning first-alternate status in last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur. In his second attempt on July 27, he started off birdie-eagle and was 6 under after seven holes. Instead of dreaming about a possible 59, Rhymes, who won the 2022 Hawaii State Four-Ball with partner Kyle Nakasaki, played more conservatively on the second nine to ensure he earned the lone spot available at Erin Hills among 21 competitors.
While not possessed with overwhelming power, Rhymes will rely this week on his strong ball-striking skills. Given his life experiences, nothing at Erin Hills or stroke-play co-host Blue Mound Golf & Country Club should intimidate him.
This endeavor is about soaking up the atmosphere and discovering how his game stacks up against the game’s best mid-amateurs.
“I’m out here having fun,” said Rhymes. “This is really about experiencing [the championship]. I just have to play my game.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.
Sep 09, 2022