Golf Writer Andy Reistetter went over to TPC Sawgrass this morning for the Birdies for the Brave event. He witnessed the Opening Ceremony and attended Operation Shower, a baby celebration for 30 moms-to-be whose husbands are deployed and serving in the military. This Pro-Am charity golf event is like no other, featuring Phil Mickelson, President Clinton and the Greenbrier's Jim Justice for the benefit of the Brave and the Babies. Join Reistetter as he experiences a truly remarkable morning, unlike any experienced before as a neighbor to TPC Sawgrass for the last five years.
Arriving early on a calm morning at the Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass, I noticed the flags were limp, hanging straight down on the poles. I thought of our brave fallen heroes of the military, perhaps this was a sign to bow my head and say a prayer to recognize their sacrifice. The dawn was peaceful, the fountain quiet, and it seemed as though the water was moving yet there were no ripples.
The camouflaged military vehicle with three rockets perched atop blended into the stone façade of the Clubhouse. As I looked to more limp flags near the practice range, there sat a powerful Blackhawk helicopter with blades motionless. The stage was silent yet posed to come to life.
For a guy from Southern California, Phil Mickelson sure likes the East Coast, particularly Northeast Florida. Though his lone win in 2012 came at Pebble Beach in February, his historic induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame came here on Monday of The Players week in May.
All four of his Majors are East Coast won, three at the Masters in Georgia, the third a PGA Championship in New Jersey. His Players win in 2007 came along with the unveiling of the new Clubhouse. Phil, always the numbers guy, pointed out that there are more tournaments in the East and is quick to have you remember that five of his 40 tour wins came in Atlanta at East Lake and Sugarloaf. Though it felt like he shrugged off the welcomed association, his manner strengthens his heart connection with the East.
The empty white chairs set up for the ceremony on the lower east lawn, along with a modest stage in front of the Blackhawk, took me to the vast expanse and seemingly endless white gravestones of Arlington National Cemetery. My mood changed quickly as vibrant life in the presence of expectant mothers, dignitaries and professional golfers the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Fuzzy Zoeller, David Duval, Billy Kratzert and Peter Jacobsen came streaming into what seemed like a natural setting. With the arrival of a gentle breeze coming off the ocean, the American flag was now unfurled at full mast above Champions Circle thanks to Matt Kuchar's popular victory in the 2012 Players. I felt proud to be an American. This was a day to celebrate America.
Silence returned as the colors of our country were presented followed by the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. Speeches were made and words uttered but the message that hit home the most was given by Phil as he turned, looked at the American flag and noted it meant two things to him—freedom and the cost of that freedom. This was a day to love, to respect and to honor our military and their families, especially the unborn babies in the wombs of the 30 mothers-to-be. These families need support and that takes money. That is where this event and the PGA TOUR make its impact: Their job is to raise money for charity.
A General by the name of Brown got up and misspoke referencing 'TPC' as 'TPG,' then told a story that hits home. The Special Operations Warrior Foundation provides full college scholarship grants to surviving children of Special Ops personnel lost in combat missions. They will come find you when you are a junior in high school and walk you through the college selection process. If your college grades are not up to par then you will get a visit from the Delta Force and receive all the help you need to graduate. Maybe the General had it right—TPG—Tournament Players Generosity or Gratitude? This was one of nine charities to benefit from this fundraising event at TPC Sawgrass.
I noticed Phil took his seat in the player's section, not on stage, even though this is his and Amy's baby that they started back in 2005 to help amputees coming back from war. His action today reminded me of the humbleness, respect and love for the game he demonstrated at this year's Masters honorary starter ceremony with Gary Player, who joined Jack and Arnold Palmer.
He came out to watch, like the rest of us, for the early morning tee time even though his was in the afternoon. I think it was the same thoughts and feelings for everyone there this morning. A humble and just tribute to our soldiers overseas, knowing that as the sun sets over there it rises here and our day is quite different than theirs but our American spirit is the same.
I haven't been to a baby shower in quite some time but I can tell you this—as good as the military salute was to our soldiers, this was a bigger hug to mothers and their "baby bumps." LeAnn Morrissey, founder of Operation Shower in 2007, spoke of the challenge of military spouses to "make family" wherever they move and "doing it all" in the absence of a spouse who is overseas defending our country. Amy Mickelson and Cathy Justice spoke of the joys and responsibility of motherhood. Mothers hold children's hands for a while and hold their hearts forever. Then lunch was over and there were presents galore and a party broke out!
While there is a special sense of joy, suspense and excitement on Sunday, typically Mother's Day at The Players, this morning's events took the TPC Sawgrass Splash, whatever that is, to a new level. This was truly a special day for mothers at TPC Sawgrass and it was an honor and lots of fun to be a part of. With my writing work done, I will now head back over to TPC Nineteen for Happy Hour. If I can't find a Splash, I think I might just have to try Fuzzy's Vodka to celebrate!
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Spotter, Research and Broadcast Assistant for The Golf Channel, NBC and CBS Sports. A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and The Players while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it.
Residing within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and the home of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, this golfing couple is focused on a number of entrepreneurial golf pursuits within the realm of "Outside the Ropes Entertainment."
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