Golf: A Game of Giving

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September 18, 2014, 1:07 p.m.
by Jean Faircloth.

With 18 holes in one round of golf, the player must pace himself. Even if he begins his round with a birdie or possibly an eagle, he must stay grounded and focused. His excitement can become crippling, if he enables it. Despite the outcome, completion emerges as the little, white ball drops into each hole. With a pleased smile or a sigh of disappointment, the player moves to the next tee box as he clears his mind. He places his ball appropriately, takes a few practice swings, approaches the ball and hits it. This is a continuous cycle through the rounds, the tournaments and the years.

Not a sprint, yet a marathon
This cycle is embraced off the course in regards to giving as well.

The players on tour currently range from ages in their early 20s to their mid-50s. Professional golf is one of the few sports whose players are able to play for many consecutive years. Therefore, they have time. This time breeds experience, and experience breeds maturity. The vice president of Crown Sports Management, Jeremy Elliot, explained that this maturity developed over time enables a professional golfer to choose a philanthropy that parallels with his values or has significantly impacted his life. The time also removes the pressure from the players in feeling rushed to commit to one target charity.

When asked about waiting to make his selection, Steve Stricker expressed, “I started my foundation (Steve Stricker/American Family Foundation) about two years ago, which was later in my career. For me it was later because, first of all, I was more focused on playing golf than anything early in my career. Charity was important, of course, but when I established myself and realized I could do things that make a difference was when I started to put more energy into my foundation and what I wanted to focus on.”

Beginning at the golfer’s debut professional event, these men are consistently surrounded by giving. According to the PGA Tour Charities site,  golf stands alone in its strides of charitable giving, as the PGA Tour exceeded $2 billion as of January 2014. The PGA Tour events are paired with a 501©(3) organization that will receive 100 percent of net proceeds. Throughout one fiscal year, the PGA Tour pairs with 2,000 different charities. The players interact with each charity in the early part of the week. This interaction ranges from tours of the facilities, to meeting with the patients, to playing golf with the participants of the organization. This player exposure creates a drive to experience the humbling thrill in charitable giving.

Similarly to their play after the thrill of a great birdie, professional golfers have learned to stay patient in charity selection as well. They understand they have many holes left to play and many years to continue their career. Most are encouraged to refrain from permanently pairing with the first favored organization. This practice is not to renounce giving, yet they are simply assessing their individual brand.

 

In order to support, individual players may have a short-term awareness campaign. For example, professional golfer Harris English, age 24, won the St. Jude’s Classic in 2013. Elliot, English’s agent, said that English’s win in Memphis sparked an interest in helping children with cancer and other internal diseases, and he wanted to give back to the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. He pledged to give $500 for every birdie that he made in the eight weeks prior to the 2014 annual event. This was an opportunity that enabled English to give back to an organization that is special to him.

Also, many players pair with another player who has selected his specific cause. They are experiencing, learning and increasing the ability of impact.

One bad hole
It is Sunday at the Master’s Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. A player is 5 under and leading the tournament by two strokes. He tees up on the 10th tee box. He knows that he will have to have a hard hook to gain the distance necessary. Trees are threatening from the left, and the right will leave an extremely long second shot. PING! The ball goes straight into the trees on the left. His ball is wedged between two roots and is directly behind a tree.

When he reaches his ball, he just stares. Initially, it is the emotion of disbelief. Next, it is the fear that his chance of winning slipped his grasp. Then, he composes himself, creates a logical plan and takes his next shot. As he finishes the hole with a double bogey, he picks his ball out of the hole, acknowledges that it was a struggle, and proceeds to the next hole. Quitting is never an option.

One bad hole impacts a player’s round. Yet, one bad hole may not be number 10 at the Master’s Golf Tournament.

When life brings trouble, the player can relate it to the sinking disbelief in seeing their ball wedged in a bad position and understand that their long-term reaction will determine the ultimate outcome. For instance, Phil Mickelson’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in the height of his career. Elliot said that such a situation is the ideal time in the player’s career to pair with a specific organization because he feels connected to the cause. The player will most likely create a foundation that is directed toward that targeted need.

According to the Els for Autism site, Ernie Els and his wife’s son was diagnosed with autism at a very young age. In correlation to the diagnosis, they created Els for Autism in 2009. This 501(c)3 Foundation is committed to helping people on the autism spectrum to fulfill their potential. They are currently working on the Els Center of Excellence, a facility that will give children with autism access to specialized education and therapy. This is a $30-million project, and the Els have pledged to give $6 million of their own.

Professional golfers’ pairings with organizations are not selected to promote the players in a specific light. Since their job is to play the sport of golf, the public must be reminded that this is a group that is not made of salesmen.

When asked how he chose his specific charitable focus, Stricker stated, “Almost every outing that I do outside of the tournaments has some type of charitable component attached to it. Whether it’s another player’s foundation or another cause, I was always exposed to different charities and certain ones seemed to resonate more. Not because they were more important but just because they were a little ‘closer to home’ as it relates to me personally.”

The players’ motive to give is pure and is rather a testament of their maturity. They are able to create a platform based on relatable characteristics and are financially able to make a strong impact. Many are very modest in regards to the donations, but when the media highlights the acts of kindness, it creates visibility.

Golf is an individual sport
The factor of individuality fosters a unique atmosphere in professional golf. On average, a PGA Tour player travels 30-35 weeks a year. Each week, most of the same men compete, just on a different course. One player solely contributes to his entire round. Each player is constantly competing with himself. His main concern on the course is to play to his potential. If an individual player does so, the positive result is proven in his score.

Elliot clarified that this atmosphere enables the players to be friends. They share excitement when a close friend succeeds, as well as relate to the frustration in missing a cut.

The friendship creates the desire to help each other in charitable giving. Stricker shared his opinion of the success in charitable giving by saying, “It’s unbelievable. The fact that the PGA Tour has surpassed $2 billion in charitable giving is quite remarkable and shows that it is a big part and big focal point of the PGA Tour and everyone involved.”

Unknown-2Stricker does not applaud himself or one specific golfer. He attributes the proactive success to the team, those who participate in the PGA Tour.

Elliot expressed a similar sentiment. He said most professional golfers’ perspective is that much more can be accomplished when they form a team. It is rare to see such teamwork with competitors in the same industry, but it is proving to be extremely successful.

The essential recipe in charitable giving is humility, modesty and the genuine drive to make a difference, and professional golfers have every ingredient. That is a brand that will last.

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