Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Joe Walton Celebrity Golf Classic

I’ve been golfing for 22 years now. You’d think that after so much practice I’d be on the PGA Tour, duking it out with the likes of Tiger, Phil, and Sergio (Garcia, not Mendes). You’d be wrong. What's strange is that I was actually a better golfer in my early teens than I am now (somewhere beyond my late teens).

So when my boss asked if I’d like to play in the Joe Walton Celebrity Golf Classic, I hesitated at first. After all, I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But then I found out that the tournament was on a Monday, i.e., a workday. So I figured I could handle a little embarrassment, as long as it meant I could get out of the office for a while.

The Joe Walton Celebrity Golf Classic is an annual charity event that benefits RMU Colonial Football. Its host, Joe Walton, has been the team’s head coach for 16 years. He actually started the football program back in July 1993. Since then, Coach Walton has led the Colonials to five Northeast Conference titles and a pair of mid-major national crowns. In 2004, RMU honored him by naming the university’s new football stadium after him.

In the past, this scramble-style golf tournament has drawn such famed sports legends as Joe Namath, Franco Harris, Joe Theismann, Yogi Berra, Chuck Noll, Jack Ham, and Lynn Swann. This year it was held at the Beaver Valley Golf Club in Beaver Falls, Pa. (Coach Walton’s hometown), and the list of sports icons was equally impressive, with names like John Banaszak, Steve Blass, Dave Robinson, Andy Russell, Foge Fazio, Hank Fraley, Hugh Green, and Babe Parilli.

Each foursome is paired up with a different celebrity, and we were honored to golf with Tito Francona, former MLB star and father of Terry Francona, manager of the Boston Red Sox. Although he played for many teams, Francona played the majority of his career (1959-1964) as a Cleveland Indian.

If you’ve ever played in a golf tournament, you’ll understand why I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I duffed my first drive about 20 yards off to the left and into the high rough. I've duffed many a first drive in my 22 years as a duffer, and there were many more duffs to follow throughout the afternoon. Fortunately, we had Mr. Francona batting clean-up, and he saved us time and time again with his down-the-center drives and dead-on putting. He also treated us to some incredible stories of his time in the major leagues—stories about legends like Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, and Ted Williams. I was captivated.

That was two days ago and I’m still pretty sore. Yesterday it hurt just to sit at my desk and type. Maybe golf’s just not the game for me. Luckily it only took me 22 years to figure that out.

- Valentine J. Brkich

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