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Christmas comes early for combat-injured troops

DEL MAR — Santa Claus made an early delivery to about a dozen combat-injured troops Dec. 15, presenting 2016’s final Operation Game On participants with golf bags and custom-fitted clubs at the Del Mar Golf Center.

The jolly fellow, aka organization founder Tony Perez, arrived in his sleigh (a red Ford Galaxie Convertible) packed with the equipment from TaylorMade.

“This is Operation Game On’s version of opening day,” Perez said when he arrived at the facility across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Racetrack.

The recipients, including Perez’s first all-female class, just completed nine weeks of lessons and a fitting session. They knew the equipment was coming, but didn’t expect Perez to be dressed as Santa.

Santa, aka Tony Perez, presents Spc. Rocio Ruiz with her equipment and gets a hug in return.  Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Santa, aka Tony Perez, presents Spc. Rocio Ruiz with her equipment and gets a hug in return. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek


After receiving the boxes, complete with bows, the veterans filled their bags, took a group photo and posed for pictures with Santa.

Perez, a Vietnam War veteran and father of professional golfer Pat Perez, started Operation Game On in 2008 to help with the rehabilitation of physically and mentally injured soldiers who are undergoing treatment at the Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.

Participants receive golf lessons from PGA-certified instructors, a professional fitting session by the staff at The Kingdom at TaylorMade for custom-fitted clubs, bags, shoes and gloves, as well as playing opportunities throughout the county at no cost to them at no cost to them or the military.

But Perez said nothing is free.

“I told you from the beginning that we don’t give anything away,” Perez told the veterans. “You’ve sacrificed through your deployments and have earned these clubs. Congratulations and thank you for your service.”

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