Red golf ball with a white heart

Good people seem to have a distinctive aura about them. You really don’t have to point these special people out in a crowd – you can see it. This year, Gary Woodland, who may have been one of the least known power players on the PGA Tour, won the U.S. Open. After he interacted with a very special person, Amy Bockerstette, during a practice round in Phoenix this year, his recognition began to grow.

In case you missed it, Woodland was playing a practice round for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and he invited Amy Bockerstette, an Arizona Special Olympics participant, to play the famed par 3, No. 16 hole with him. Amy accepted the invitation. This special young lady hit her tee ball into the greenside bunker and when asked by Woodland if she wanted to play her next shot she said, “Yes, I’ve got this.” Well, indeed she did. Amy blasted her bunker shot out to 10 feet from the hole. Of course, the crowd at No. 16 loudly applauded, and Woodland smiled and told Amy that she was awesome. Woodland asked her if she wanted to putt her ball out, and again Amy said, “Yes, I’ve got this.” 

I’m confident that the ground shook when the crowd roared as Amy did in fact make that 10-footer for par. Gary Woodland was so supportive and delighted for her. If you haven’t seen the video, watch it. It puts a smile on my face and nearly brings me to tears each time I watch it.

Gary Woodland’s story is not a PR stunt – he’s truly a good person. In 2010, one of my graduating sophomores, Paul Harris, received a tremendous golf scholarship to the University of Kansas. In Harris’ junior year, Woodland had just graduated from the Jayhawk team and was starting his professional golf career. Harris told me that he met Woodland a number of times, as he did various fundraisers for the golf and overall athletic programs at the university. 

This sort of compassion that Woodland showed to a very special young girl is something that we see in golf quite often. Paul Tesori is a past CACC Trojan golfer and is Webb Simpson’s caddie on the PGA Tour. A few years ago, Tesori and his wife Michelle had a son named Isaiah. Isaiah was born with Down Syndrome. Since Isaiah’s birth, the Tesori family has been very involved in fundraising and charity work for children with Down Syndrome.

You may know that Ernie Els’ son is autistic, and Ernie and his family have gone above and beyond in charity efforts for autistic children. Programs like the First Tee Program and many others are common in golf. It is very heartwarming to me that these athletes who are public figures utilize their star power for the benefit of others. This sort of practice is not new, it has been going on for years. Jack and Barbara Nicklaus raise incredible amounts of money for their Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. I suppose this is another reason I was a huge fan of old Danny Thomas, who promoted St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

There have always been good people and not so good people. We, as a community, should focus on the good. Relish and applaud the efforts that the good people are doing. 

As we have just celebrated our nation’s birthday, consider what our forefathers overcame to provide us our inalienable rights. Be proud and stay strong. Whenever you can, if you find people in need, do your part to help them. I witness benevolence and kindness all of the time. 

In coaching golf at Central Alabama Community College, I have been so blessed to have so many people consider this college golf program as one of their annual donation outlets. As long as they help to keep our college golf programs, I will work tirelessly to bring in fine young men who our donors are proud to support. You never know when one of these young men may be put in the situation to help others. As they have seen so many people help them in their college years, they are much more apt to be good and kind and pass along compassion to their children. Good people generate energy, and it becomes infectious. 

Let’s see what’s next in the life of Gary Woodland. He’s a hero in my mind and heart, and I hope you feel the same. God bless those who show love and compassion to those who have struggles.

The internet makes it simple to research things about people. I believe that you would be even more proud of our PGA Tour stars when you find out about their various charities. In 2017, the PGA Tour golfers collectively raised more than $180,000,000. This sort of compassion is another reason why I love and appreciate the game of golf. Be something special to others!

~ Dave Jennings is the men’s golf coach for Central Alabama Community College.