RB Michael Pittman was one of several Buc golfers capable of prodigious tee shots on Monday
On Monday afternoon at the Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club, Michael Clayton struck a blow for second-tier duffers everywhere (with help, it is true, from a few ringers).
More importantly, Clayton was one of several dozen community-minded citizens who used their love of golf – and varying levels of skill – to bring aid to a fantastic cause, All Children's Hospital.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver and his accompanying foursome of BB&T executives hit the Tampa Palms clubhouse with a smoking 12-under in the 2007 Buccaneers Golf Classic, posting the best score among 18 determined groups competing in a scramble. Clayton admitted that his BB&T partners – Rick Iler, Rick Shonter, Ken Coppedge and Eric Morris – carried him most of the way, but also claimed to have been an asset off the tee. And that, said the double-digit handicapper, was more than anyone could have asked.
"You know, you've got that class that plays golf every day – your Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles, guys like that," said the fourth-year Buc veteran, flashing a playful smile. "Then you've got your guys who want to play every day but just don't have the time. I fall into that second category. In fact, I think I'm the best in that group, and that's what you saw today."
It was a simple best-ball scramble with teams of five, allowing for a club-length drop from the chosen shot as long as the ball stayed in the same condition (no moving from the rough to the fairway, for instance). Tampa Palms Head Golf Pro Kevin Kenny announced the shotgun start a little before noon and the scramble was underway, with Head Coach Jon Gruden and his group starting on Hole #1 and the eventual winners heading out to the fifth tee box. There was a Closest to the Pin competition on #2, a Long Drive contest on #5 and two potential car giveaways for hole-in-ones on 13 and 17, courtesy of Dodge and Chrysler/Jeep.
Clayton's team of BB&T golfers was just one of many groups that chose the Buccaneers Golf Classic as a way to support All Children's Hospital. Other charity-minded birdie-chasers came out to Tampa Palms from Bright House Networks, Emerald Star Casino & Resorts, Inc., Gatorade, Hess, Miller, Sembler Co., Somerset Pharmaceuticals, Sykes Enterprises, Sysco Food Services, Verizon Wireless and WFLA; there were also several fivesomes comprised of Buccaneer staff members.
Each group of four was paired with a Buccaneer player, coach or executive, including Gruden, Clayton, General Manager Bruce Allen, safety Will Allen, cornerback Ronde Barber, tight end Anthony Becht, kicker Matt Bryant, guard Dan Buenning, long-snapper Andrew Economos, fullback Jon Goldsberry, tight end Keith Heinrich, wide receiver Ike Hilliard, defensive tackle Chris Hovan, wide receiver Mark Jones, quarterback Luke McCown, safety Donte Nicholson, running back Michael Pittman, linebacker Barrett Ruud and tackle Jeremy Trueblood.
The trash-talking was flowing even before the golf carts headed out to the course – Gruden, for instance, referred to Pittman as an "impersonator" and figured McCown's soaring drives had something to do with his recent lack of playing time on the gridiron – but the participants knew the real reason they were out of the office on Monday. A four-hour stroll on a breezy afternoon followed by an awards dinner were designed to raise significant funds for All Children's Hospital.
The hospital had several representatives on hand for the event, and they were thrilled by the golfer's enthusiastic support.
"I think it was just wonderful," said Anne Miller, media relations manager for All Children's Hospital. "We had a great turnout, and it was just fantastic to see so many people turning out and doing this for All Children's Hospital. We really do appreciate it greatly."
As tee shots veered into ponds and putts rolled past pins, golfers could take solace in knowing their efforts would help children currently being treated at All Children's, as well as many more boys and girls who will be helped in years to come. One of the main projects for which All Children's is currently raising funds is the construction of a new, 11-story, state-of-the-art hospital. It is slated for completion in 2009 and it is, as Miller called it, a "huge undertaking."
"The new hospital will have 240 rooms and a lot of new technology and it's really going to enable us to serve the next generation of kids," she continued. "It will really help us do a more efficient job and a better job of moving forward in the future. It will allow us to stay on the cutting edge, and we're very excited about that. Support like what you see here today is what will make that possible. It's going to be a legacy for our kids and our grandkids. That's why it's so touching to see this kind of turnout today."
Inconsistent golfers like Clayton could also take solace in the scramble format, which helps to erase many an errant shot and produce rather low scores. After that group's 60, four other groups came in at 10-under 62, and the back-nine tiebreaker produced the second and third-place teams. Taking the first runner-up spot was Bryant's team from Somerset Pharmaceuticals – Dr. Mel Sharoky, Dr. Larry Blob, Joe McDevitt and Ross Hillman. The second runner-up was Gruden's team, which featured the Hess foursome of Gary Michniewicz, Don Renaud, Mike Lambraia and Al Hoffmann.
Penny Hulbert of Emerald Star Casino & Resorts took the Closest to the Pin title by hitting her tee shot to four inches of the cup on #2. Her teammate, Jason Romano, was the Long Drive winner, smashing a 320-yard shot on #5.
The Emerald Star team featured had Hovan as its Buccaneer celebrity but featured another very well-known athlete in former MLB star Fred McGriff. Romano also spent five years in the majors with five teams, including the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and was one of the stars of the course on Monday with his enormous drives.
McCown was true to his driving-range reputation as a long-hitter, too, and Pittman hit some ringing shots thanks to his massive forearms and UFO-headed driver. Gruden, too, was long off the tee all afternoon. After out-driving the rest of his team by at least 80 yards on #18, Gruden mused about his game on Monday.
"I have hit it hard today," he said. "I've hit a couple that brought back memories of the old vertical game."
Alas, that shot on 18 hit a bunker, so his team chose a safer shot from back on the fairway and eventually worked out a par on the hole. They didn't know it at the time, but even a birdie on 18 would have left them a shot off the lead. They would have needed to hole it out from the fairway to catch Clayton's team, which was already in the clubhouse, and grab bragging rights for the next year, until the 2008 Buccaneers Golf Classic is played.
"That's big man," said Gruden. "Bragging rights are big in the locker room. This is the most difficult sport there is. You can't blame anybody. You can't blame the quarterback or the coach; you've got to blame yourself. You hit the shot. And there are all kinds of shots that come about in golf – long ones, short ones, trick shots, tough holes. It's a tough game, man. And pressure. Peer pressure is a real problem for a lot of us golfers."
So Clayton can take those rights back to One Buccaneer Place as the team begins another round of organized team activity days on Wednesday. Days like this one spent on the golf course can build camaraderie during a long offseason of preparations, and the Buccaneer coaches and players knew that was another benefit of Monday's event.
Still, the main purpose of all the shots, straight and hooked, long and short, was to help ailing children today and in the future.
"When it comes to kids, and pediatric centers like All Children's, it's crucial that we help," said Clayton. "Anything that has to do with kids, I'm there. They have my heart. I have two baby girls of my own, and it warms me up to be out here. We had fun, but it was definitely for a good cause."
Another Way to Help: NFL Auction
You didn't have to be on the links Monday afternoon to help the Buccaneers support All Children's Hospital. In fact, you can still help the cause, and you don't even have to log off your computer.
Through the NFL Auction Network at NFL.com, you can bid on exciting Buccaneer items ranking from a rare, autographed "attack flag" that was flown over Raymond James Stadium to a VIP Training Camp Experience in Orlando. Proceeds from the sale of these items will be added to the funds raised at Monday's Golf Classic and donated to All Children's Hospital.
Click here to check out the auction items and place your own bid. What will you find on the auction site this week? Here are a few of the highlights:
Stadium-flown Attack Flag signed by Ronde Barber
Flown over Raymond James Stadium, this rare attack flag was hoisted high above the Tampa skyline during the 2006 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season. Signed by Pro Bowl Cornerback Ronde Barber, this attack flag measures 8'x12' and is the perfect piece of memorabilia to complete your den or game room. One other flag signed by Derrick Brooks is also available.
VIP Training Camp Experience for Four plus 4 Tickets to a Walt Disney World Theme Park (2 adults/2 children)
One of the most coveted items in the Bucs' collection, this VIP Training Camp Experience is sure to create magical memories for you and your family. Included with this destination auction item are VIP Admission for four to view one day of the Bucs' camp, use of a VIP viewing area on the practice field, autograph opportunities with players as they exit the practice fields, a back-stage tour of the Disney Wide World of Sports Practice Facility and four Tickets to a Walt Disney World Theme Park
Authentic Jerseys signed by Mike Alstott and Cadillac Williams; Authentic Helmet signed by Chris Simms
Any or all of these items would be a perfect addition to your Buccaneer collection.
- And much more. Visit the NFL Auction today to find coveted Buccaneer memorabilia and help a great cause!