Planet Golf — 01 February 2018 by Candace Oehler
JT thrills kids in buildup to tournament

SCOTTSDALE – The Waste Management Phoenix Open was all about giving back Tuesday.

Seven-time PGA TOUR champion Justin Thomas still remembers going to junior golf clinics, hanging on to every word the pros said, and watching every shot they hit. Today it was his turn to impact more than 500 kids attending the R.S. Hoyt Jr. Family Foundation Dream Day and PING-sponsored First Tee clinic.

Under sunny Scottsdale skies a the TPC Champions Course, Thomas talked about attending similar clinics when he was a kid, telling his young audience to learn as much as they can from the pros they encounter. He also stressed the importance of patience – in school and friendships, not just in golf.

You’re going to get frustrated,” he said. “But accept it and wait for good things to happen. Just be ready for them. And most important, just have fun.”

Thomas was joined by his good friend, All-Pro Cardinals fan favorite Larry Fitzgerald. The two tag-teamed on a lively Q&A with the kids and each other.

In answer to “what would it be like to do the other person’s sport,” the slightly-built Thomas quickly replied, “Well, I wouldn’t be able to live to tell you about it!” Laughing, Fitzerald countered with, “I’d make it to Friday, at least.”

The two also spoke about sportsmanship, one of the First Tee’s Core Values. Both agreed that respect is an important part of their sports.

It’s very competitive out there and we all want to win,” said Thomas. “But, at the same time, how you lose defines you as a person. You need to be supportive of your friends, and be gracious and happy for them when they win.”

While the clinic kids continued their morning with the Trick Shot Boys, lunch, and chipping and putting games, over at the TPC Stadium Course putting green, the San Tan Ford Special Olympics Open was underway. Celebrities including Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley and announcer Tom Candiotti, former Sonic Tom Chambers; recently-retired Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, former MLB stars Kyle Lohshe and Mark Mulder, and basketball legend Ann Meyers Drysdale teamed up with Special Olympians to master a tricky nine-hole putting course.

The day ended with a Shower – not from the sky, but in a box … for babies. Operation Shower was held for the sixth consecutive year in the Birdies for the Brave Patriots’ Outpost located on the 18th hole. Presented by PRO EM, the event honored military moms-to-be, most of whose husbands or significant others were currently deployed.

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

Operation Shower founder LeAnn Morrisey, who started the organization in her basement in 2007, was thrilled to be celebrating the milestone 100th Shower today.

Being our 100th makes today a little different, and adds a little specialness to it,” she said.

When she began the initiative, Morrisey did not envision the eventual growth and success of Operation Shower.

I had no idea. It was always just getting to the next one. It started with individual boxes, the Shower in a Box, and we started with those being sent. Then we decided we needed to bring the moms together and do a really nice shower for them.”

Now, 100 Showers and 5000 moms-to-be later, Morrisey’ vision for the future is simple.

More showers! We have 10 more scheduled this year across the country, about half taking place at PGA TOUR events.”

Shower guests were unanimous in expressing their shock at the quantity and quality of gifts received, and their sincere appreciation for it all.

Raquel G., an Air Force wife whose baby is due in April, said “It’s amazing! This is like above and beyond!”

Bridge H., attending with her three-week old daughter Zoe, was also able to bring her husband Kendal, who leaves next week for a year-long deployment.

I’m just overwhelmed and really appreciative,” she said.

Operation Shower continues to have 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.

We caught up with the Mahans (with their three children in tow) and asked Hunter – dubbed the “nicest guy on TOUR – why he and Kandi continue to not just write a check, but show up at the Showers whenever possible.

He explained, “When my wife heard about this, it’s just something that spoke to us. We appreciate the military so much, it’s not just the men who go overseas, but it’s the women who are making that sacrifice as well, and being torn apart as a family is a very difficult thing. We leave for two weeks at a time and it’s hard. And these men leave for months or a year at a time.”

Mahan, whose last win was the 2014 Barclay’s, said he’s excited about his game and looking forward to competing and playing at a high level this week.

Hunter and Kandi Mahan address the guests:

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About Author

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; 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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