PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – I have been talking about sports for a living just about every day of my life since I got out of college in 1994. The great thing about this job is that there are some things that can surprise you. When I heard last week that Jack Nicklaus would be playing with Drew Brees, Dan Marino, and Kenny G in the Honda Classic Pro-Am, I thought it would be a nice event.
I underestimated it greatly.
We had an argument at dinner last night over who had the biggest impact on the fans Wednesday. Drew Brees, who nearly followed in Dan Marino’s footsteps as the Miami Dolphins quarterback, is wildly popular after his Super Bowl win about an hour south of here last month. He signed autographs and was loudly cheered as if he were a hometown player.
But it was Nicklaus that held the reverence of the crowd, including his playing partners. The Golden Bear did not disappoint, holing out from the greenside bunker on 17 at the end of the aptly named Bear Trap. Then, on 18, Nicklaus had about a 15 footer for birdie on the closing par 5. The difference between great players and legends is their flair for the big moment. Nicklaus is a legend.
He made the putt.
Steve Hartnett, Steve Bean, and Sgt. Andy Butterworth had a great view of Nicklaus all day. Through the Caddy For A Cure program, they had the opportunity to caddie for Nicklaus Wednesday. Hartnett made a sizeable donation to the charity for the opportunity to loop for Nicklaus, then flew from Colleyville, Texas to Palm Beach Gardens with his friend Steve Bean for the opportunity of a lifetime. Both said it was a remarkable experience, even if they had to wear Boo Weekley-style hunting gear to withstand the cool weather for the 5 hour round.
Hartnett even offered to donate an extra $1,000 to charity for every birdie from the group, $2,000 for an eagle. When he said that he would donate $20,000 for a double eagle, Nicklaus quickly quipped, “Let’s move up to the forward tees!” And, when Nicklaus heard that Caddy For A Cure supports The Wounded Warrior Project, he insisted that a wounded serviceman be an escort for the group. So, Sgt. Butterworth rode with the group for much of the day. He even walked about eight holes, despite his leg amputation.
Sometimes, you look at an event and say it could be nice. Then, when you dig deeper, you realize that what makes the event special is much more than the celebrity factor. It is the impact those celebrities have on so many other lives.