You are a professional golfer, one of the greatest golfers in the world, competing on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass for the right to be called THE PLAYERS Champion.
It is Sunday afternoon late in the final round. You have just survived the first of the final three-hole stretch called "The Gauntlet." Water-infested and daunting, you know they will determine your fate. You are prepared and ready for the biggest challenge of your life.
While laboring to take that long walk along the water from the 16th green to the 17th tee, success is the only thing on your mind. Arriving at the tee, the biggest moment of your golfing career is now here. There are only 137 yards separating your teed golf ball and the hole which is located down a slope on the back right portion of the island green.
What will you deliver?
This is golfing drama. No doubt the television folks are flashing back to the fate of Len Mattiace in 1998, Sean O’Hair in 2007 and Paul Goydos in 2008. All three came to the same place in golfing time, confident in their ability and the outcome they so desperately desired. Committed to their process, each hit their tee shot in the water. That day they failed to become a PLAYERS Champion. How will that experience impact them longer term?
Some say golf is a lot like life, or that even life is a lot like golf.
Parents of autistic children know what it is like to have their hearts set on having the perfect child. Like everyone, when they become parents their expectations are high. At the moment of birth, like everyone, they pray mostly for a healthy child and the ability to be a good parent to that child. When they realize something is different with their child as a baby, toddler or adolescent, how do they react? What do they do?
Mattiace went on to win twice on the PGA Tour and nearly won the Masters, catching a bad break tree-stymie in the playoff with Mike Weir near the 10th green at Augusta National Golf Club. Most people remember the two balls in the water that PLAYERS Sunday, some remember that he was playing in front of his mother in a wheelchair who died of cancer two months later and few remember the details of his play that day. That Sunday round in 1998 was not to be characterized by the Snowman 8 at the 17th but by the nine birdies, including one on the final hole, and a more than respectable Sunday score of 70. Mattiace was not only heroic in his golf that day, but also as a son and no doubt is the Mother’s Champion at TPC Sawgrass.
O’Hair won once before that day in 2007 and three times afterwards on the PGA Tour, most recently the 2011 Canadian Open. With Top-10s in the Masters and Open Championship, at age 31, the productive years of his golfing career are ahead of him. The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass did not define him. It was a stepping stone to personal and professional growth.
While Mattiace was 31 years old at the time, O’Hair was 24 and Paul Goydos was nearly 44 when destiny came his way in 2009 at TPC Sawgrass. He thought of himself as a "lovable loser" well before Rocco Mediate lost to Tiger Woods in the 2008 U.S. Open. The adult Teddy Bear was trying to be like Fred Funk, the oldest to win THE PLAYERS at age 48.
Goydos had won twice already on the PGA Tour the day he bogeyed the 18th hole and had the opportunity to play the 17th again in a playoff with Sergio Garcia. Though he did not win that day, he did became the fourth, and oldest, player in PGA Tour history to shoot 59 at the 2010 John Deere Classic. Off the golf course, he is known to be an endearing father to his two daughters after the loss of their mother in 2009. It’s important to win at the meaningful challenges in life.
When Leslie and Bobby Weed gave birth to their autistic daughter Lanier, they dealt with the unexpected. Along with two other daughters, they made a family complete with three special daughters and then looked outside themselves to help others with autistic children.
In 2004, they co-founded the non-profit organization, Healing Every Autistic Life (HEAL). They issue grants to support autistic camps and educational programs. Beginning in 2007, TPC Sawgrass “adopted” their local charity, and together they have raised over $2 million with “Valley of Dreams” events like the one held on September 12th in the Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass.
This year was extra special with the goal of purchasing iPads for Special Needs Classrooms across Northeast Florida. One in 140 Autistic children, like Lanier, are deemed nonverbal; they cannot speak. iPads help autistic students communicate, finally giving them a voice.
General manager Bill Hughes, with the help of the lovely news anchor Patty Crosby, conducted an auction and raised funds for additional iPads during the evening. The list of roles performed by a great golf professional was just expanded to include No. 32—auctioneer.
For the fans of Country music star Jack Ingram, the price of the charity ticket was worth it to hear the good looking Texan sing his No. 1 hit song “Wherever You Are” in an intimate setting. The lyrics of going through rivers of rain and mountains of pain, doing whatever one needs to do and following your heart and dream seemed to fit the occasion perfectly.
Our basic human instinct is to fight the isolation of ourselves, especially in difficult times. Nobody is perfect, but what is perfect is the spirit within each of us. Yes, the 17th at TPC Sawgrass can be the “Hole of Horrors,” but it doesn’t necessarily define a career, a tournament or even a round.
No person in this world is an island or needs to be imprisoned within themselves. When we go into the water, we can always swim towards each other. Somehow we meet in the middle and learn to float our way to a new understanding, a new way of living.
HEAL, TPC Sawgrass, Leslie and Bobby Weed and many, many supporters are doing just that for nonverbal Autistic children.
HEAL—an organization’s goal is to Heal Every Autistic Life. Maybe we have it backwards and it is the autistic child that is healing us?
Maybe knowing that is better than acing the 17th to win THE PLAYERS Championship.
Visit www.HealAutismNow.org or call 904.716.4905 for more information.