ORLANDO, Fla. – Bubba Watson was moved when he heard about the earthquake and tsunami that caused so much destruction in Japan, and he began thinking about a contribution to the relief efforts, just as he did with Haiti earthquake.
A lighthearted conversation with Ryuji Imada, a former teammate at Georgia, pushed in that direction.
Imada, who was born in Japan, pledged to donate $1,000 toward relief efforts for every birdie he made during the Transitions Championship last week at Innisbrook.
“That made me interested,” Watson said Tuesday. “But I said to Ryuji, ‘What if you don’t make any birdies?’ I told him if he went two days without making birdies, I’d give $10,000 in his honor. We were joking. But he said he thought about that, but he was going to give money no matter what he did.”
The next day, Imada opened with a 74 without making a single birdie.
Watson then told Imada that because he’s been a longtime friend, he would give $50,000 to the American Red Cross. Imada made two birdies on Friday, but by then, the seed had taken root. Watson finished his final round Sunday, found a PGA Tour official and handed him a check for $50,000 for the Japan relief efforts.
“We always give to charity,” Watson said. “It’s about helping people who need help. Me and my wife, Angie, we talked about it when the disaster happened. We wanted to help. We can’t dig through the rubble, so how about money? We’ve been blessed with money, why not help? And then Ryuji brought it to our attention.
“We think about this all the time, how blessed we are,” he said. “From where I grew up to where I am now, it’s a blessing to be able to write a check like that.”
Watson wasn’t alone in his personal charity efforts.
K.J. Choi, who has spent a career giving back, pledged $100,000. From his first victory on the PGA Tour, Choi had given a percentage of his winning check to the church he attended in the city that week.
Bobby Gates and Brandt Snedeker were among those who pledged money based on their birdies. Watson said he hopes the effort picks up momentum at the next few tournaments.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: Among the past champions at Bay Hill this week is a player that more than half the field won’t even recognize. That’s OK with Andy Bean. He doesn’t know them, either.
Bean won the Bay Hill Classic in 1981, so long ago that Fred Couples was still a rookie and among those who missed the cut were amateur Hal Sutton and Bill Calfee, who now runs the Nationwide Tour.
But it wasn’t the 30-year anniversary of his win that brought Bean back.
“We don’t have a tournament this week,” Bean said.
The Champions Tour typically has an event the week of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bean used to joke about the open dates on the senior schedule and ask officials to keep this week open. It worked out this year, and he wasn’t about to miss.
“Any time you can play in Arnold Palmer’s tournament, it’s cool,” said Bean, who lives less than an hour away in Lakeland.
The last of his 11 regular tour wins came in 1989, and Bean hasn’t played a full PGA Tour schedule since 2000. Bean, who turned 58 last week, last played a PGA Tour event in 2003.
“I’m looking forward to playing,” he said. “I’m sure it plays longer, and it was tougher than it was in years past. But if you drive well and putt well, that recipe works just about everywhere.”
Asked to pick two players in the field he would want in his group, Bean had to think long and hard. He settled on Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, adding with a laugh, “I know they’re not even playing.”
He’ll be playing Thursday and Friday with Brandt Jobe and Yuta Ikeda of Japan.
Bean is amazed at some of the young talent on tour these days, and thought it was good that more natural athletes are gravitating to golf. He said he played five sports in high school before settling on golf.
“I didn’t have to run fast and I didn’t have to jump high,” he said.
AMATEUR SCHEDULE: U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein played the Transitions Championship last week and easily made the cut. He’s back at Oklahoma State this week, even though he had an automatic exemption to Bay Hill and doesn’t need to worry about burning exemptions because he won’t be turning pro any time soon.
It’s all a matter of scheduling, and Uihlein has one busy schedule.
“I’m going to be missing a lot of school because of the Masters,” he said.
Uihlein makes his way to Georgia next week for the 14th annual Georgia Cup match that features the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur champions. He plays Jin Jeong next Tuesday at The Golf Club of Georgia.
Then it’s back to school before a weekend at Augusta National to get ready for his first Masters appearance. The rest of his summer should be easier to juggle. The U.S. Open and British Open come after school is out.
CADDY FOR A CURE: Russ Holden has been running a unique charity for the past several years called “Caddy for a Cure,” in which people can bid to spend one day at a PGA Tour event as the caddie for a tour player.
Auction proceeds support PGA Tour military charities, Birdies for the Brave, the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, the PGA Tour Caddy Assistance Fund and the charities of the tournament that week.
Luke Donald agreed to take part at the Northern Trust Open, one week before he went to No. 3 in the world. Next on the schedule is the two guys ahead of him in the world ranking – Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood.
Kaymer has agreed to have the highest bidder caddie for him in a practice round at the Wells Fargo Championship, while Westwood will take part during the week of his title defense at the St. Jude Classic.
“We’ve had most of the world’s best players participate with us before,” Holden said. “This is the first time we’ve had the top three in the world. Whoever wins these opportunities to spend a day with Kaymer or Westwood is guaranteed to have a day they will never forget.”
The online auction is found at www.caddyforacure.com and eBay auction links.
DIVOTS: Ernie Els said he raised $720,000 on Monday when he hosted several players for a pro-am that raises money for the “Els for Autism Center of Excellence” he is building in south Florida. … Gary Woodland’s win last week was the 299th by a player who once competed on the Nationwide Tour. … The Byron Nelson Championship is bringing back its popular “Caddy for a Caddie” promotion. Why is it popular? The winner’s caddie receives a 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Three of the four winners on the Champions Tour this year have been No. 1 in the world – Nick Price, Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman.
FINAL WORD: “I think the public itself cares who’s winning, not who’s qualifying.” – Paul Goydos.