A tour pro protecting a one-shot lead on a Sunday can feel like he or she is on an island.
It’s not that way for Jennifer Song.
Somebody else’s hopes and dreams also ride on every shot she hits.
Song made sure of that in an extraordinary commitment to making her world a better place.
When Song turned pro last year, she decided that she would give one-third of her winnings each tournament to a local children’s charity within the community she was playing.
“The better I play, the more I can win for the charity. That’s a huge motivation to me.”
That makes this week’s RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup the perfect event for Song. The 21-year-old rookie embodies the spirit of this inaugural tournament, the U.S. start to the 2011 LPGA schedule. The entire $1 million purse this week will be donated to charity.
“I was super excited about this,” Song said. “All players want to give back something, and this is a wonderful opportunity. This is the perfect tournament to do that.”
A lot of the buzz at Wildfire Golf Club at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa is over who’s playing for whom this week.
With Japan devastated by earthquakes and tsunamis, this event has suddenly taken on another dimension.
“We’re hearing a lot of players registering who want to help the effort in Japan,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said.
Before teeing it up, all 134 players in the Founders Cup will declare a charity that they’re playing for.
Yani Tseng, the No. 1 player in the world, announced Wednesday that she will play for the children of Japan through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Paula Creamer announced that she also will play for relief efforts for the people of Japan.
The Founders Cup $1 million purse will be split with $500,000 going to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf and $500,000 to designated player charities.
The champion will get to steer $200,000 to the charity or charities of her choice. The second-place finisher similarly steers $100,000, third place $55,000 with donations being awarded to the designated charities of everyone finishing in the top 10.
Though LPGA pros won’t collect paychecks, they will get credit for official money. They’ll also earn points toward the Rolex World Rankings, Rolex Player of the Year, Rolex Rookie of the Year and the Solheim Cup.
Song, 21, has the game to change a lot of lives. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 2009 and was an All-American at USC. She won her first event as a pro last summer, claiming the Tate & Lyle Players Championship on the Duramed Futures Tour in Decatur, Ill. She donated a third of her check, nearly $2,000, to the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Decatur and the city’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
In Phoenix, Song is playing for Arizona Quest for Kids, a program designed to help at-risk youth go to college. A dozen students in the program met with Song Wednesday and watched her hit balls on the driving range.
“Jennifer is showing our kids what’s possible,” said Dana Carroll, executive director of Arizona Quest for Kids.
Arizona Quest for Kids was founded by David Highmark, managing director of Northern Trust’s professional athlete division. He’s part of Song’s management team and told Song he had the perfect children’s charity for her this week. After moving to Arizona, Highmark was moved learning that the dropout rate in the state ranks among the highest in the nation. Highmark said he “exported” the Quest for Kids idea from Naples, Fla., where he used to live. Twelve years later, Arizona Quest for Kids boasts that 91 percent of its students attend college.
Song, a dual citizen of the United States and South Korea, said her parents, Muscok and Jee Yeon, inspired her desire to give one-third of her winnings.
“I feel like I was blessed,” Song said. “I was born in a family that was able to support me. My parents gave me dreams, and they allowed me to dream. I just thought kids who don’t have that, they need somebody to help them get that start.”
Song and her LPGA sisters are all about giving this week.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell