BEDFORD – Athletes need role models, too.
In the eyes of Bill Haas and many of the other Tour members on hand Monday at GlenArbor, few legends have done more than Gary Player on charitable and social fronts.
The native South African has impacted the entire globe.
“I’m here to learn,” Haas said from a dais that also included Tom Watson. “These guys have grown the game and given back. Learning from them is an opportunity. I can’t emulate what they have done on the golf course, but they are easy to look up to.”
For the second year in a row, the Berenberg Gary Player Invitational drew an important crowd.
The event is part of a lifelong effort by the 80-year-old Black Knight to raise $100 million to benefit a growing list of charities that help children worldwide.
It’s a very ambitious goal.
“Even now, I don’t know how realistic it is,” said Player, who’s surpassed $62 million. “I never thought we’d get to the stage where we were in six different countries. We’re in Abu Dhabi now. We’re in Japan. We’re in China. We’re in South Africa. We’re in America. We’re in England. … We’re changing the lives of millions of people and what better gift is there than that? All through golf. From having, really, an ambition to help people, it snowballed. To get to $100 million, it would have to come from donations as well because I am 81 in a month’s time. It’s just so gratifying, particularly when you suffered like I did as a kid, having experienced what it’s like to have nothing. That’s when you have the zest to do this.”
The list of PGA and Champions Tour members on hand was impressive
Padraig Harrington, Jay Haas, Branden Grace, Tony Finau, Kevin Kisner, Mark O’Meara, Emiliano Grillo, Larry Mize, Tom Lehman and Geoff Ogilvy were just some of the accomplished players lending their considerable talents.
“Athletes have incurred a debt,” Player said. “That is the best way I can put it. We didn’t play for much money, but guys today are becoming extremely wealthy people. It’s not preordained that you become wealthy or become a champion golfer. The word that comes to mind should be gratitude. I’ll tell you what, golfers are the best. More money is raised through golf than any other two sports put together.”
The man who’s lent his voice to social and political causes over the years has no problem with athletes shining a spotlight where change is needed.
It’s not always the popular move.
There was pushback earlier this summer when Knicks all-star Carmelo Anthony challenged athletes to stop worrying about endorsement deals and start tackling political issues. There was an uproar last week when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem to protest what he labeled ongoing social and racial injustices.
Watson has never had a problem speaking publicly about issues on either side of the gallery ropes.
“I think if you have real feeling about a certain cause you should be able to use your platform,” the eight-time major champion said. “We’re athletes. That’s what we do. Some people say, ‘Only talk about your sport,’ but it does give you a bully pulpit, so to speak, and you can talk about issues that really concern you. That’s what Kaepernick is doing. It’s what a lot of people in sports have done in the past. It’s not necessarily popular, but some people like to hear about what athletes are thinking about outside of their sport. It can promote a conversation that wouldn’t have been there before.”