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Rory was always fun, laid back, loved playing, and loved people. He was extremely intelligent and learned quickly. Those who know him best say his personality was one of the sweetest in the world.

Rory was destined to be a great service dog.

This Rory, a white English lab, was donated as an 11-week old puppy to Florida-based, veterans service organization, K9s For Warriors. The nonprofit, of which Birdies for the Brave is a long-time supporter, trains mostly rescue dogs and some donated puppies to become service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI or military sexual trauma.

Being under a year old, Rory had to be raised by volunteer puppy raisers before he could enter the kennels with the advanced dogs. A husband and wife volunteer team, Christie and Travis Whitley, near the organization’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Florida, took on the challenge of coaching Rory for 11 months in their own home. They were supplied with all the gear necessary to help care for Rory, and attended puppy raiser classes through K9s For Warriors to help teach him basic social and obedience skills.

As is tradition at K9s For Warriors, each year, a service dog-in-training is named to celebrate the previous year’s winner of THE PLAYERS Championship and the ongoing partnership between the organizations. Once THE PLAYERS rolls around the next year, a meeting is arranged between the canine and their namesake before the service dog is paired with his or her veteran.

On Military Appreciation Day in 2020, Rory the service dog met Rory McIlroy, the 2019 champion of THE PLAYERS, just in time. Just days later, the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the top dog met the top golfer, both showed heartwarming delight.

“I could do this all day long,” McIlroy said, while the two sat nose-to-nose together.

The moment lasted long enough for all bystanders to enjoy and capture on their cameras, but then it was time for both Rorys to return to work – the lab to his training, and the player to golf.

Rory, the service dog, completed his formal training and was paired to a veteran in the May 2020 class of K9s For Warriors. After training together for two weeks, the new team graduated and returned to the veteran’s home of Panama City Beach to begin their new “leash” on life together.

Although THE PLAYERS did not name its next champion due to the pandemic, one Rory certainly completed one of the greatest matches of his life – passing his service dog training to save a veteran in need.