Planet Golf — 01 February 2017 by Candace Oehler
Waste Management – Kids and Babies

SCOTTSDALE – It’s a tournament best known for the party at the iconic 16th hole “Coliseum,” but the charitable aspect of the Waste Management Phoenix Open is equally memorable.  Tuesday, in particular, was a showcase of just how the PGA TOUR and its players make an impact on the local community. 

The day began at the Champions Course at TPC Scottsdale, with several hundred kids taking part in the R.S. Hoyt Jr. Family Foundation Dream Day that included a PING-sponsored First Tee clinic featuring nine-time PGA TOUR winner Bubba Watson, and All-Pro Cardinals fan favorite Larry Fitzgerald.  The two, who were paired together for three days at last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Open, spoke of their genuine respect for each other – as athletes and men.  That admiration, apparently, does not extend to Bubba’s appreciation of Fitz’s golf swing, which Bubba insisted on demonstrating more than once to the audience.  Bubba really impressed the crowd, though, when individual kids were invited to call his shots – Fade! Draw! – when he was at the very top of his backswing. The two-time Masters Champion made it look easy.

While the clinic kids stayed for a trick shot artist and chipping and putting activities, Fitzgerald took his smile, personality, and putter to the Stadium Course to take part in the Special Olympics Putting Contest.  Professional athletes, including Fitzgerald; Diamondbacks Jake Lamb, Chris Owings, and Phil Gosselin; former Sonic Tom Chambers; and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians teamed up with Special Olympians to master a tricky nine-hole putting course.

Next was Operation Shower, presented by PRO EM, a truly festive event to honor military moms-to-be.  It was held for the fifth year in the Birdies for the Brave Patriots’ Outpost located on the 18th hole tee box of the Stadium Course.

The St. Louis-based, non-profit Operation Shower hosts baby showers for military families across the country.  Today, 31 expectant mothers were treated to lunch, raffle prizes, and an extraordinary array of gifts, including a “Shower in a Box,” that included everything from stuffed animals to baby shoes.

 “There’s a lot of stress with a pregnancy anyway,” said Operation Shower founder LeAnn Morrisey, who started the organization in her basement in 2007. “But when your spouse, or yourself, is serving or deployed during the pregnancy, that can add a little bit more.  We just want to bring a day of joy and appreciation to these moms.”

Operation Shower has treated and pampered more than 3,500 military moms from all branches of the military.

Kelly Hernandez’s husband serves as an Air Force Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician and has been deployed six times in 13 years – in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.  The couple is expecting a boy on March 29, and Kelly found it difficult to express what the shower meant to her.

“It’s incredibly overwhelming,” she said.  “We’re just being really taken care of and showered with love.  It’s amazing that it’s because our husbands are doing such amazing work for our country, but it’s nice to be recognized and pampered a little bit.  I’m just completely overwhelmed.  I wasn’t expecting even half of this.”

Operation Shower has star-power support from six-time PGA TOUR winner (and 2010 Waste Management Phoenix Open champion) Hunter Mahan and his wife, Kandi.  The couple supports the initiative through The Hunter Mahan Foundation, and attends Showers whenever possible.

It’s a cause that is close to the heart for the parents of three. 

Explained Kandi, “I was pregnant with Zoe, our oldest when I heard about Operation Shower.  I was very emotional about pregnancy and when I heard about the chance to help military families,  which has always been a passion for my husband, it was an easy choice for us.”

Added Hunter, whose reputation as the “nicest guy on TOUR” was affirmed today, “That’s the great thing about the PGA Tour, every community they come to they do they try to make a difference, and in a positive way. And with Operation Shower being such an incredible organization, they make it pretty easy for us to donate and be a part of.  We’re very proud to be a part of this.”

The day of giving concluded with the PGA TOUR Wives Classic that featured PGA TOUR wives competing in a friendly 9-hole shootout for charity, while their PGA TOUR pro husbands served as caddies for the day – carrying golf bags, raking bunkers and tending flags for their wives – all for charity.  While a few of the wives do have game, sadly, most don’t, leaving little to report on.  The champagne was flowing, however, and everybody appeared to be in great “spirits.”

Tomorrow – Annexus Pro Am with celebrities including Michael Phelps, Bo Jackson, Greg Maddux, and more!

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Candace Oehler’s deep dive into sports media began several decades ago when she won a trip from Seattle to Mariners spring training in Arizona. Noting that non-English-speaking Latino ball players received little, if any, media coverage, she fluently/en español became a pioneer in Spanish sports media, and eventually became known affectionately throughout the Latino MLB community as “La Veterana.” Candace has written for team publications and MLB.com; hosted her own radio show on several Spanish-language stations; served as producer/reporter/engineer for the Mariners’ inaugural season of Spanish radio broadcasts; and has been a reporter for MLB Network Radio the past 10 years. She was invited to Venezuela by future Hall-of-Fame shortstop Omar Vizquel to cover rebuilding efforts and accomplishments of his charitable foundation following the devastating 1999 mudslides; worked in Puerto Rico for former Major Leaguers Joey Cora and Carlos Baerga managing fundraising events; and was the only female in the raucous locker room when the hometown favorite Licey Tigers won the 2004 Caribbean World Series in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Candace was introduced to the game of golf in 1992 by members of Seattle’s historic Fir State Golf Club, who had approached her to manage their (then) little fundraising tournament hosted by a shy, gangly 15-year old Tiger Woods. Candace co-managed the annual event for nearly 20 years, working with hosts that included Ken Griffey, Sr., Birdie Griffey, Mike Cameron, Nate McMillan, Warren Moon, and Dale Ellis. She became secretary of the club and the Fir State Junior Golf Foundation, and got totally, completely hooked on golf, learning to play on a set of Redbirds given to her by the club (apparently they considered her mother’s Patty Bergs a bit antiquated). She has since traded up to another set of Redbirds and a much more user-friendly golf environment in Arizona. And, once a prolonged stint on the DL is over, she can’t wait to get back on the course and continue lowering her current 21-handicap to ….?

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