It wasn’t a PGA Tour event or a major championship but the swell of onlookers Monday, April 12, along the driving range at Black Diamond created plenty of buzz.
For all the right reasons, too.
Scanning down the line, amateur golfers and spectators could catch a glimpse of Ernie Els, Rocco Mediate, Fred Couples, Corey Pavin, Darren Clark, Lee Janzen, Tom Lehman, Mike Weir, Vijay Singh and Larry Mize warming up prior to the start of the Legends of Golf Day at Black Diamond. Combined, the group has captured 16 major golf championships, with Els’ four the best of the group.
But the real winners of the day, Els pointed out before the four-person, shotgun start scramble teed off, were the Ernie Els Autism Foundation and Black Diamond Foundation. Both nonprofit organizations were the beneficiaries of Monday’s star-studded event, which had folks snapping photos and videos of a notable who’s who of PGA stars now plying their trade on the Champions Tour.
The Ernie Els Autism Foundation, located in Jupiter, Florida, assists 300 youths with programs and therapies while also providing adult services, Els said. The Black Diamond Foundation provides funds throughout the community, from the Thanksgiving Day Feeding Alliance to scholarships to high school seniors in the county.
“It’s going to be cool,” said Els, who along with Mediate, hosted a clinic for fans and spectators before warming up for an afternoon round of golf. “The fans are going to come close to these guys. They don’t see them live much anymore. It’s a lot of majors here.”
The idea for the event was the brainchild of Martin Courtois, a Black Diamond resident who approach Els with the idea at a Champions Tour event earlier this year. He had already secured the likes of Couples and Mediate.
“It’s an honor really,” Els said. “When (Martin) came up with the idea. We first spoke at the Hawaiian event. It sounded like a good idea. He’s got really good friends on the tour, already had Freddie signed up, obviously Rocco was playing. We do a lot of these charities around the country. It is nice do one with our new family (the Champions Tour); these guys are legends, it’s great to spend time with them.”
“These guys, I looked up to. I’m kind of the younger guy here. The rest of them, they were my mentors. Freddie is like … he was the man. I played a lot of practice rounds with him. To play with them, see them, interact with them, it’s a dream come true.”
More friendly competitive, we do it from the right way, from the spirit we used to play with. “It’s in the right spirit,” he said. “Laid back, casual. The guys stay sharp; they don’t want to play poor golf. It’s great to see the guys.”
While not playing, Tom Bobrowski, an avid golfer and member of Black Diamond, was on hand to support the cause and, perhaps, pick up a few tips from the pros.
“These are great players,” he said as he continued to peer along the driving range. “I can’t wait to see how they compete on our course, how they play the holes. It’s going to be so fun to watch.”
Bobrowski had been keenly watching Couples warm up on the range, lamenting how “he makes it look so easy.”
“But then you hear these guys talk about their approach to the game, their consistency,” said Bobrowski, an 8-handicap golfer. “It’s about practice, repetition. It’s good for guys like myself to hear.”
Even younger golfers such as Maegan Pungsuwan, a freshman at Lecanto, was awestruck by seeing top-level professionals.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d get to see them in person, this close. It’s amazing.”
While not a hands-on lesson, Pungsuwan said she was able to pick up a few tips from studying them.
“Watching them, especially Fred (Couples), they’re just super consistent,” she explained. “While you might not want to replicate their shots, there are check points you can follow through. Those are things I like to study.”
The event was sponsored by Citrus Orthopedic & Joint Institute and Crystal Motor Sports.