Memorial Coverage presented by The Local PGA Chapter, TriStatePGA.com.
Dublin, OH— Just after 8 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday morning, the smile never departed Nationwide Children’s Hospital patient champion Emmeclaire as she stood on the 10th tee at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
Emmeclaire was inside the ropes during the Nationwide Invitational Pro-Am and was greeted by Tony Finau and then moments later by Pat Perez, Anthony Muñoz, Greg Olsen and LaDainian Tomlinson.
As part of the pro-am Emmeclaire was one of the few individuals who was named a patient champion and it is part of why Nationwide takes pride in being a sponsor of the Memorial Tournament.
“It’s a great alignment between three iconic brands in Jack Nicklaus, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Nationwide in the Central Ohio community,” Nationwide Associate Vice President of Sports Marketing and Sponsorships Jim McCoy said. “It is all focused on trying to elevate the hospital, make people more aware and try to drive the funds for the great things that they do. It’s meaningful for us to be attached to that and take this event to new places every year. To be able to elevate the hospital’s role in it is really special for Nationwide.”
As part of the pro-am Peyton Manning had teed it up each of the past two years and played once again Wednesday, this time with Tiger Woods.
“It’s great to be back first off, this has been a lot of fun for me these past couple of years,” he said. “It’s a win-win all the way around and you can have a lot of fun promoting a good cause. Everyone has things in perspective when they have a chance to visit with these patients with the battles they fought through. These are the real heroes, it is a team going through these respective fights. You just want the patients and parents to know it is okay and they are going to be safe.”
In addition to Manning, Nationwide brought in Muñoz, Olsen and Tomlinson, all previous winners of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, as part of a partnership with the NFL. McCoy said this was done in hopes of taking the event to the next level while further impacting the Columbus community.
“To have your work really make a meaningful impact to families and kids and know the money we’re helping to raise, which is $27 million from our sports marketing group in the last eight years and $11 million just from this one event, we know that has a real impact on kids lives and to bring out some of those patient champions who have gone through a lot but can celebrate them here is really a great thing to do,” said McCoy.
NFL Players have fun on the course
Golf is a very humanizing game and Tomlinson found that out as soon as he hit his first tee shot.
After Perez hit his tee shot on the team’s opening 10th hole, the trio of Muñoz, Olsen and Tomlinson all moved towards the designated amateur tee box.
Tomlinson was last to hit and popped his tee shot straight up in the air, barely passing the end of the tee box. A smile quickly formed on his face.
“Nerves got to me,” he admitted. “I thought I had warmed up enough and I just shanked it. It was just a bad tee shot, what can I say? I didn’t have any plays like that when I played football.”
He would recover later in the round chipping in for par on the par-4 third hole for a team birdie.
What Tomlinson did pick up from the round was further respect for the PGA TOUR players and what they do week in and week out, comparing playing in the rough to playing in an NFL game.
“You have one sport where you are wearing a helmet and people are in the stands watching the game,” explained Tomlinson. “Here they’re lined up on the fairway and you just don’t want to hit anyone. The nerves are a little bit more prevalent when you are playing golf.”
Olsen drove his ball in trouble for most of round and more than anyone got to experience firsthand how penalizing the Muirfield Village rough is.
He provided commentary to the patrons, Nationwide representatives and anyone in the near vicinity throughout with each shot, most of it self deprecating which drew laughs from those in who followed the pairing.
When one of his teammates made a nice shot, he would encourage the patrons to cheer and then playfully made fun of the smattering of applause which followed.
He also returned thanks to those who called him “the best tight end in the game” and for those who thanked him for helping their fantasy football team.
Muñoz also was interactive with the fans signing for several fans between each hole. The former Cincinnati Bengal also received plenty of “Who Dey” chants and had conversations with a couple of Cleveland Browns fans.
His nerves admittedly came after the first couple of holes, something which surprised him.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I’ve known LT for a little bit but really my first time around with Greg and Pat Perez is great. The people were great and the course is amazing.”
Muñoz had the highlight of the round with a par putt from the back of the par-5 fifth hole green which netted a birdie. Muñoz said of the make that his caddie advised him to hit the putt at a certain spot to the hill and let the ball run out, which is exactly what happened.
“It was long overdue and I think they forgot I was on their team,” said Muñoz. “It was nice to stick one there. Those are the type of holes that bring you back for more.”
What the day meant
McCoy fondly recalled a past Jack Nicklaus Youth Spirit Award winner named Kyle who was having heart issues but got to putt out with Manning on 18.
Kyle made the putt and was recognized by the big gallery after he made the putt.
That to him is a perfect example of what he wants Nationwide’s sponsorship of the Memorial Tournament to be about. Instead of being a sponsor which just enjoys its name being attached to an event, Nationwide seeks to involve its brand in all different aspects of the tournament.
“We want to do more than just put our logo up on a sign,” McCoy said. “That’s our approach across NASCAR, the NFL and golf. We want to be an engaged sponsor that adds to the event’s experience for the fans. We take a lot of pride in that. It’s a great investment, but we see a big return when we put the right amount of activation behind it.”
As the NFL group made the walk from the 18th green to the first hole, Tomlinson signed caddie bibs for several patient champions, the smile never leaving his face.
“It was phenomenal to see all of the young children out there with their flags and they just seem so happy,” he said. “That to me is what Nationwide provides at this tournament all of the joys and happiness of these wonderful kids who are going through things that are unthinkable. We pray for them and that they will have the best outcomes in their situations. It was a wonderful game.”
Speaking generally, athletes often get asked the same questions on a frequent basis and the answers are shorter. Events such as this showcase an athlete playing to his or her strengths and allows the public to see a side of these individuals that is not often in full view.
“Unfortunately you hear a lot of the negative headlines and not enough attention is put on what players do in their community and Nationwide has fixed that,” said Manning.