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Opinion & Analysis

Top 10: The Tour’s must-see tournaments

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This is the time of year when I sneak out of my hole, see my shadow, and get a serious case of Spring Fever.  As a viewer, I simply can’t wait to see the calendar flip from winter to spring; from March to April; from the Puerto Rico Open to the Masters.  I am sure that I am not the only one to go on “Masters Watch” as we enter the Florida Swing phase of the PGA Tour calendar. Although I enjoy many of the Texas tournaments — heck with Fantasy Golf I love all tournaments! — there isn’t really a “can’t-miss” tournament coming up until April rolls around.

This anticipation for the first major of the year got me thinking: what tournaments do I plan my calendar around?  Do I have to see every swing in, say, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship?  The Players Championship?  The Playoffs for the FedExCup? Come to think of it, what is my favorite, must-watch, can’t miss tournament every year?  Well, that’s easy…but what is second?  It’s not as obvious as you think. With all of that said, I present to you my “Top-10 list of Must Watch Golf Tournaments.”  This list is the order I would set if I were prioritizing my DVR list on January 1st.  I encourage your feedback to say where I’m crazy, what I got right and what you would switch around. So, without further adieu, here we go.

(Writer’s note: I would typically go No. 10 down to No. 1 to build the suspense. But, since there can simply be no drama about what is No. 1, I would rather front load the list. The drama appears right after No. 1. Let the debate begin!)

1. The Masters

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Come on? What else could possibly be here? I believe that what makes a tournament like the Masters a “must-see” is a combination of elements: First, it has a familiarity where the conditions, sights and sounds are consistent year after year.  I would go so far as to say that I know the back nine at Augusta National as well as I know my home course here in Southern California.  This is true despite the fact that I have never stepped foot in the state of Georgia, let alone the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. I don’t just watch the telecast, I study it. One more thing: yes, I know there are courses that are deemed “more exclusive” than Augusta National, an example being Cypress Point.  But, if you gave me a choice of playing any course anywhere in the world, there is no doubt whatsoever that Augusta National is my choice.  And no, there’s not even a close second.

2. The Ryder Cup

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Every two years we are treated with what always seems to be simply riveting television. There is nothing like seeing the cheering, screaming, fist-pumping, high-fiving, crowd chanting ole! ole! ole!, and all of the craziness (like Cigar Guy) that comes along with the Ryder Cup. Every other year, we see some poor, unsuspecting pro get put into a position of turning into an unlikely goat, while others suddenly rise to hero status. This is a place where legends are made — and all for no purse. No moohlah; just pride of country and the chance to have their name associated on a teeny, tiny little trophy; which just may be the most recognizable cup in all of golf.  As a side-note: I am sometimes struck at how important it seems to be for Europe to beat the U.S. and show that they are just as good, if not better than the Americans. It has the feeling of one of those “one-way” rivalries where one side thinks there is a rivalry while the other side is unaware that it even exists (see: Trailblazers vs. Lakers or Devil Rays vs. Yankees or Cardinals vs. Cowboys). Up to now, I do not believe the Americans have shown the same level of reciprocal intensity towards Europe. But, after watching the European surge and subsequent collapse by the U.S. in 2012, I suspect that will change for good next time ’round.

3. The U.S. Open

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Arguably the toughest conditions combined with what I believe is year-in, year-out the best field in all of golf, the U.S. Open has it all. There have been times where the conditions have almost cruelly brutal, but you know what?  “The rain falls on the just and unjust,” so fair or unfair, it is the same for everyone out there. It’s refreshing to watch the pros struggle to break par. My feeling is that at the highest level of tournament golf, the winner should be the one who breaks par. How cool is it when 2-under wins a major?  Whoever enters the weekend with the most fortitude takes the whole shebang. It’s also great to see guys begin to carve out there legacies by competing on the toughest stage in golf.  And it’s only getting better as over just the past three years we have seen some of the new breed of dominant players — Rory McIlroy , Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson have all captured the title of U.S. Open Champion with more majors likely to come between them.

4. The British Open

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What do you get when you combine soccer chants, the Road Hole, backward shots hit off of stone walls, bunkers so deep that you have to hit backwards to get out and wind-blown conditions that don’t even look fun on the best of days? My biggest gripe with this event is that the coverage, due to restrictions created by the physics of the Earth, happens just too early for me to actually watch. As a DVR guy, I try to record my shows, black out the news, and then watch when I get home. The problem with the Open Championship is that the event is so big, blocking out the news is nearly impossible! But, nothing diminishes the drama of the event and it’s clear that this is the title coveted by probably the most golfers in the world.

5. Pebble Beach Pro-Am

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As mentioned above in the Masters, I am a firm believer that what makes for great golf viewing is familiarity with famous holes on famous courses. There is no course that features more familiar holes to the avid golf viewer than Pebble Beach, with the lone exception of Augusta National. Who among us is not familiar with the 18th at Pebble?  Or the par-3 17th?  Heck, I would go so far as to say that we know the FRONT of Pebble Beach better than we know the front of Augusta National simply because many of us raised on golf viewing ever even saw the front nine at Augusta until about a decade ago when the coverage expanded. In 2012, I finally got the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing Pebble Beach for the first time: it actually felt like I was playing it again.

6. The Players Championship

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You have no idea how close I came to putting this one spot behind. I’m not saying that The Players Championship is ahead of the PGA Championship in importance. But ask yourself, “Which event is simply more fun to watch?”  With the sheer drama of watching the pros deposit ball after ball into the water that surrounds the Island Green, The Players is must-see TV at its best. Then, just to twist the knife, Pete Dye created No. 18, and we get to see our heroes face two of the most intimidating shots in golf; a true test of fire.

7. PGA Championship

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Come on, admit it: you are with me on this. There is something about the 4th major that just doesn’t feel as “major” as the majors, you know what I mean?  It is a great event for stat-filling and when counting career majors for the pros. Yes, it still gets a spot on this top 10 list by virtue of being a major, but I have always felt that this one just seems to lack the personality and character that each of the other majors inherently possess.

8. Northern Trust (LA) Open

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Hogan’s Alley — The Northern Trust Open has one of the longest-standing tour event on the PGA schedule.  This is another famed track where many of the holes have a personality all their own, like the par-3 6th featuring the signature bunker square in the middle of a severely-sloped green and the drivable par-4 tenth hole. Who among us is not familiar with the sweeping vistas showing the famed clubhouse sitting high on the hill visible from every hole on the course.  This course is a true test; so true that Tiger here won there and gave up trying. It took John Merrick’s gritty performance to pull off the victory this year.

9. The Presidents Cup

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This is the poor man’s version of the Ryder Cup occurring in the every-other year format on the year when the Ryder Cup is NOT taking place.  The difference is that this time it’s the U.S. versus the World, umm, minus Europe. Okay.  The format is similar to the Ryder Cup and always fun to watch. It lacks the same must-win atmosphere but it’s certainly worth watching anytime you get the world’s best going head-to-head purely for pride of country (or in this case pride of country vs. pride against the other guys’ country!). How can you not tune in?

10. WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

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Okay, there is a chance, albeit slight, that this tournament makes the list simply because it just wrapped up as I type. But, in it’s defense: it is a break from tradition. As I was watching the Accenture Match Play get snowed out on day 1, it got me to thinking how I love this quirky tournament!  Match play is flat-out fun to watch simply because it always seems to break away from what I am used to seeing as “normal golf.”   I find that I can settle into the drama of each match while watching how pros respond to pressure-filled situations.  If it’s not the rash of wild upsets that occur every year, like seeing Rory and Tiger get knocked out by guys I couldn’t find with a hard-copy of Wikipedia, then it’s just the sight of seeing things I never see like snow-covered cacti.  Whatever it is, I love the Accenture Match Play and am always sure to set my DVR to watch every stroke they show.

Like the list? Disagree with Chris’ choices? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Chris Hibler is an avid golfer, writer and golf gear junkie. If he's not practicing his game with his kids, he's scouring the GolfWRX classifieds looking for a score.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Florence Turner

    Mar 4, 2013 at 5:23 am

    I’ve been following some of those tournaments on live television but I never really had a chance to watch the action in first hand. I love golf. It is a game of skills and talents. Hope I can watch the pros play live someday.

  2. LL

    Mar 3, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    This is an awesome article! I’ve been watching golf on TV for years and have been really afraid to actually try it myself. My only real “golf” experience was with an ex-boyfriend years ago where I was left to drag a rickety golf bag around all day in sweltering 100 degree heat at Burbank golf course ;-(( Meh…Years later, I finally got up the nerve to take my 1st then 2nd golf lesson and I’m loving it!! This “What to watch” article is helpful to newbies like me who need guidance on what Tourneys to TiVo/Watch. Thank You!!!!

  3. Chris

    Feb 28, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Northern Trust Open over The Memorial? My sister could put a better list together.

    • Chris

      Feb 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

      That was a little bit playful banter but…The Pebble Beach Pro Am is awful, altho it’s played on Pebble so I watch it. For me — all 4 majors and the Ryder Cup are 1-5. The Masters is not only the best golf event of the year, it’s arguably up there with The Superbowl and The World Series and The Stanley Cup for all of sport. And Chris, what’s the justification of The Northern Trust over The Memorial? The course and feild are better at Jack’s event no?

  4. Joe C

    Feb 27, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    1 – The Masters
    2 – British Open
    3 – The Players
    4 – Pebble Beach pro am
    5 – Quail Hollow
    6 – Harbor Town
    7/8 – US Open/PGA depending on the courses
    9 – Colonial
    10 – Phoenix

  5. LaterOn61

    Feb 27, 2013 at 12:14 am

    I have thought Pebble to be one of the worst events of the year. I am also not a fan of the British and the PGA is when I am chasing the sun on the course myself.

    I love Phoenix, Match Play, Bay Hill, and the FedEx playoff tourney outside Boston.

  6. Nathan W

    Feb 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I really don’t see why Pheonix is not on the list.

    • Nathan W

      Feb 26, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Going with the list the writer used, I would definitely take off the Presidents cup. Pebble beach is only a shoe in because of the course and the PGA because its a Major (imo it’s not up there with the other 3). You throw in Pheonix, Tour Championship, and/or Firestone. Those are better Tournaments imo. Doral is a great course,but they don’t draw a good field.

  7. Clown

    Feb 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Here’s a list from a European perspective:

    1. Ryder Cup
    2. British Open
    3. Masters
    4. US Open
    5. British PGA
    6. PGA Championship
    7. The Players
    8. WGC Matchplay
    9. Euro Matchplay
    10. Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
    11. Scottish Open
    12. Waste Management Phoenix Open

  8. Chris Hibler

    Feb 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Tim + Marcus- agree with you on the Waste(d) Management Open (like nickname, too!). I love the energy there.

    Good lists and great feedback! Keep ‘me coming!

  9. Marcus Dyer

    Feb 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    1. The Masters (Bubba’s SW, Rory’s collapse etc)
    2. Ryder Cup (guaranteed to have most of the best in the game)
    3. US Open (Nice to see some big numbers, makes you feel good)
    4. British Open (Windy, Rainy, colder…perfect)
    5. The Players (Tough Field, 17 for nerves)
    6. PGA Championship (Tought field & conditions)
    7. Presidents Cup (cool, but not ryder cup level)
    8. Firestone
    9. Memorial
    10. Wasted Managment Open

  10. Tim

    Feb 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I agree about Pebble Beach. Unless the US Open is held there it is one tournament I hardly ever watch anymore. Memorial is high on my list, but I am more along the lines of the Europeans and rate The Open higher right behind the Masters. I love match play but agree that once the top seeds are gone it is hard to watch. I like the Phoenix one due #16 and #17. The PGA may slip depending on venue.

    1. Masters
    2. British Open
    3. US Open
    4. Ryder Cup
    5. PGA Championship
    6. The Players Championship
    7. Memorial
    8. Firestone
    9. Presidents Cup
    10. Phoenix

  11. JASON

    Feb 26, 2013 at 11:29 am

    The Ryder Cup is definitely there as a top 10 tournament, but since it’s only held every other year, i didn’t list it for 2013. I agree it would be the 2nd tournament behind the Masters in 2014 though.

  12. JASON

    Feb 26, 2013 at 9:07 am

    No offense, but this list is dreadful. Hardly anyone cares about watching Pebble Beach and being subjected to Chris Berman’s swing. The WGC Match play may have some 1st and 2nd day hype, but after all the top seeds get knocked off no one really cares. The Northern Trust makes this list but Memorial, Players, and Quail Hollow don’t? Those fields are twice as good as the Northern Trust and fall right smack dab in the heart of the season.

    1. Masters
    2. US Open
    3. PGA Championship
    4. British Open
    5. The Players Championship
    6. Memorial
    7. Presidents Cup
    8. Memorial
    9. Firestone
    10. Doral

    • JASON

      Feb 26, 2013 at 9:08 am

      ^^^^meant to put Quail Hollow @ 8

      • Zak Kozuchowski

        Feb 26, 2013 at 9:30 am

        The Players Championship is ranked No. 6 by Chris.

        • JASON

          Feb 26, 2013 at 11:31 am

          I’m an idiot as i somehow completely glossed over it. I suppose i was still in shock he had Pebble Beach at #5!

    • rikks

      Feb 26, 2013 at 10:38 am

      umm ryder cup jason? not to easy to construct a list that everyone likes, but i thought it was an excellent read

    • Chris Hibler

      Feb 26, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Jason – no Ryder Cup??? That’s tough to swallow. Firestone is solid.

    • JK

      Feb 26, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      The list isn’t that “dreadful.” I suppose he doesn’t like memorial as much as you, but who likes it so much that they put it twice? Just kidding.

      It seems obvious to me that the four majors would be on any “top 10 watch” list for golf. Maybe a list of the non-majors to watch would be more valuable? I agree memorial, quail hollow, firestone, and doral are all better than Pebble, Riviera, and Accenture, though.

  13. JK

    Feb 26, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Pebble Beach and the President’s Cup don’t belong on the list. The Northern Trust Open probably shouldn’t be on the list. The Accenture Match Play has been a bust each of the last two years. I find it odd that this list comes out right after Pebble, Riviera, and Accenture have JUST been played. For me, Bay Hill is always exciting and usually comes down to that last great hole over water. Memorial is usually good to watching. The John Deere is interesting for the mind-blowing numbers they’re shooting, even if the field isn’t always great. The St. Jude has been good for the last few years since Garrigus blew up on the 18th–great closing hole there. I’d take all of those over Pebble, Riviera, or Accenture in any given year.

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Opinion & Analysis

When Golf Isn’t Fun Anymore

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I was just finishing a lesson with one of my most talented junior players, a 12-year-old girl who has won most every tournament she’s entered. She posed a question that I could not answer on the spot.

This game is supposed to be fun, right?” she asked. “I don’t feel like I’m having fun anymore.”

“Let me give that some thought,” I said. “When you come back for your next lesson, I’ll have an answer for you.”

When she returned the following week, I had written down my thoughts on a piece of paper. We sat down on a nearby bench.

“I’d like to read to you,” I said. “Are you ready?” She nodded enthusiastically.

“First, I think that as you started to win, what you would previously defined as FUN was replaced by SATISFACTION,” I told her. “This is what great players feel when they have reached an achievement. What happens is that as players move from beginner to expert, they define their experience differently.” I leaned over and showed her the graphic that I had drawn.

SCORES

100    90     80    75    70    65

FUN——TO——S-A-T-I-S-F-A-C-T-I-O-N

“Do you see that at a certain point fun is replaced by satisfaction?” I said.

“Yes,” she replied.

“What happens is there is a cross-over point in the mind of players,” I said. “As they become more serious about the game, their expectations increase. Second, beginners have no expectations when it comes to score. They are simply playing the game for entertainment. Beginning players may have fun because they have no expectation for performance. Third… and here is the last point. Perfection is not achievable. The vast majority of the shots you will hit in a round are serviceable misses. There are only one or two perfect shots per round. A player who insists on perfection can’t enjoy the game.” I paused for a moment to let the final point sink in.

“What do you enjoy about the game, “ she asked.

“That’s a fair question,” I said. “I enjoy the feeling of a solid shot as it strikes the club face; I enjoy the company of the other players in the group; I enjoy the sights and sounds of nature; I enjoy the fresh air and exercise. I could name more, but that’s a good start.”

I continued on: “I’m thinking that you have been so focused on improving your score and winning that you have lost sight of the more enjoyable parts of the game. You might find you are having more fun when you change your approach.

She corrected me: “You mean enjoyment?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said. “I meant to say enjoyment.”

“Did I succeed in answering your question?” I asked.

“You did,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Great,” I said. “Now let’s get back to work.”

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Courses

Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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News

PGA Tour Pro and Parkland Alum Nick Thompson is Part of the Solution

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The tragic shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida moved the entire nation in a deep and profound way. The tragic events touched many lives, including PGA Tour Professional Nick Thompson, who attended Stoneman Douglas for four years and was born and raised just minutes from there.

On our 19th Hole podcast, Thompson described in detail just how connected he is to the area and to Douglas High School.

“That’s my alma mater. I graduated in ’01. My wife Christen and I graduated in ’01. I was born and raised in Parkland…actually Coral Springs, which is a neighboring city. Stoneman Douglas actually is just barely in Parkland but it’s pretty much right on the border. I would probably guess there are more kids from Coral Springs that go to Stoneman Douglas than in Parkland. So I spent 29 years in Coral Springs before moving to Palm Beach Gardens where I live now, but I was born and raised there. I spent four years of high school there and it’s near and dear to my heart.”

Thompson’s siblings, LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson and Web.com pro Curtis, did not attend Douglas High School.

His reaction to the news was immediate and visceral.

“I was in shock,” said Thompson. “I just really couldn’t believe it because Coral Springs and Parkland are both wonderful communities that are middle to upper class and literally, like boring suburbia. There’s not much going on in either city and it’s kind of hard to believe that it could happen there. It makes you think almost if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. I think that’s one of the reasons why it has really gotten to a lot of people.”

Thompson knew personally some of the names that have become familiar to the nation as a result of the shooting, including Coach Aaron Feis, who died trying to save the lives of students.

“I went to high school with Aaron Feis,” said Thompson. “He was two years older than me, and I knew of him…we had a fair amount of mutual friends.”

And while the events have provoked much conversation on many sides, Thompson was moved to action.

“We started by my wife and I, the night that it happened, after we put our kids to bed, we decided that we needed to do something,” Thompson said. “The first thing we decided was we were going to do ribbons for the players, caddies, and wives. We did a double ribbon of maroon and silver, the school colors, pin them together and wrote MSD on the maroon section. We had the media official put them out on the first tee, so all the players were wearing them. It’s been great.”

“I got together with the media guys and Ken Kennerly, the tournament director of The Honda Classic and they have been amazing. The amount of players that had the ribbons on, I was just watching the coverage to see, is incredible. I actually spoke to Tiger today and thanked him for wearing the ribbon. We really appreciate it, told him I went to high school there. I mean the only thing he could say was that he was sorry, it’s an unfortunate scenario and he was happy to wear the ribbon, do whatever he could.”

Thompson is quick to note the help that he has received in his efforts.

“It’s not just me. My wife has been just as instrumental in getting this done as me. I just, fortunately, have the connection with the PGA Tour to move it in the right direction even faster. I have the luxury of having a larger platform that can get my words out and everything we’re trying to do faster than most people. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart so it was just literally perfect with The Honda Classic coming in town.”

Thompson has also been involved in fundraising that goes to help the survivors and victims’ families. GoFundMe accounts supported by Thompson and the PGA Tour have raised in excess of 2.1 million dollars in just a week.

“One of the most important uses for this money is counseling for victims, for these kids who witnessed this horrific event, or have one degree of separation,” Thompson said. “Counseling for kids who lost a friend or a classmate, who need counseling and to help them with their PTSD essentially. I think that’s one of the most important things is helping all these kids deal with what has happened.”

Thompson acknowledged the fact that the entire Parkland family is activated to help in the healing. As for his efforts, it’s the product of his recognition of just how fortunate his life has been and a heart for service.

“Golf has given so much to me that it was the perfect time to give back even more than I already have. It’s the best we can do. We’re just trying to make a difference. ”

Listen to the entire interview on a special edition of The 19th Hole with Michael Williams on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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