The girl, just 12 years old, pulls out the long putter that belonged to her father, and it is almost as tall as she is. The seventh-grader plays golf on the Northwestern High School team with girls five, six years older than her and beats many of those she competes with.
A year ago the putter was just a stick or a pole, but now it is a tool of her trade. Few at her age, if any at her age, use it as well as the kid that the golf world from high schoolers to soldiers without legs call “Buggy.”
The leaderboard at golf matches says “Buggy.” The posters held by other parents and soldiers without legs because bombs blew them off proclaim “Buggy!”
On Kayleigh “Buggy” Reinke’s golf bag that is almost as big as her is a towel used to clean the heads of her clubs when she shot an incredible 96 this week in the South Carolina Upper State meet, just months after picking up a golf club for the first time. It is an American flag towel.
The towel is for her dad.
The nickname is Buggy because a soldier named Gavin Reinke used to call his baby daughter Buggy. Gavin Reinke called his daughter Kayleigh “Buggy” until May 4, 2006. Buggy was 3 years old in Missouri with her mother. Gavin was in the Army in Baghdad on his second deployment. He was trying to help other soldiers who had been hit by a roadside bomb when another bomb went off.
Buggy’s dad was dead. Carole Reinke, her mom, was immediately a single parent.
Yet because her father was a professional soldier who had been gone most of her young life, Buggy barely knew the big tall handsome guy who would whisper “Buggy” as he rocked her to sleep on rare time home from wars. But she remembered the word, “buggy.”
It hung in her heart.
Through golf, a new game to Buggy, her father stays alive forever.
“I play this game in honor of my dad,” Buggy said. “He called me Buggy, when I was little. So I’m Buggy forever. Golf can help me remember him.”
Yet Buggy only found out recently her father played golf. She never picked up a club until right before Christmas last year, when her mother’s companion, Judson Mullis, took her for a few swings at Pinetuck Golf Club near Rock Hill. Mullis is a teaching golf pro. His daughter, Ashlynn, was a star at South Pointe High last year on that team’s state title squad and now plays golf in college.
Buggy grabbed the club and her first swing looked like she’d been playing forever.
Her mother, and the rest of her family, then told her how her dad had played golf, and loved it, before he was killed in a war.
Buggy decided, at age 11, she would play golf like her dad.
Soon after the first swing a broken arm meant no golf for a while, but kids heal fast. By late winter, Buggy was hitting golf balls and following Ashlynn’s example. Buggy was able to meet several golf people and stars at the Monday after the Masters junior golf fundraising event organized every year by the members of the music group Hootie and the Blowfish. She helped with the longest drive contest. Buggy thanked so many for their service. These men all wondered why.
Buggy told them her father died in Iraq.
The tournament stopped. For a moment, there were no laughs or longest drives.
These soldiers and golfers all realized it was Buggy they were playing for.
In minutes that became days and weeks and months, Buggy Reinke was not just some kid with a natural swing, but a part of the family of golf that includes the Salute Military Golf Association and so many involved in junior golf in South Carolina. Many in the military group are men and women so tough, wounded warriors, who play golf without feet and legs and arms. They all adopted Buggy as one of their own.
Buggy’s resolve steeled even more.
When Buggy went to Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., over the summer to visit her father’s grave, there was a nearby event for the military golfers. Buggy gave a speech in front of hundreds. The room fell silent as the girl talked of her dad dying and the golf he loved and these men stood as one, some on artificial limbs, for Buggy.
Buggy started to cry, and she could not finish the speech. Her mom, Carole, got up and finished for her.
The room exploded with applause.
When it was over, Buggy went back to the cemetery in Arlington and talked to her dad at his grave and promised she would do her best at golf and everything else for him.
By the end of summer she was on the Northwestern High School team and one of the top two or three players on the team – even though she is just 12 years old and in the seventh grade at Dutchman Creek Middle School.
“At first, I was a bit concerned – she is 12 – but she has earned all she has accomplished and more her grades are straight As,” said Carole Reinke.
The Northwestern season just ended. Buggy played up to the second spot, and sometimes the top spot, on the team. She qualified for regional competition and did well enough there – her score was 105 – to qualify for last week’s Upper State contest.
The other players from other schools looked at this girl with her American flag towel and realized that something special was going on.
In that Upper State contest, the parents of competitors and others watched as Buggy recorded a personal best of 96.
But Buggy did not win. She did not qualify for the state finals.
But at 12 years old, just months after starting, Kayleigh “Buggy” Reinke had started something magical.
“I did the best I could for my dad,” Buggy said.