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PGA Tour Players Vote to Help K.Green & C.Smith

“For Players, Charity Begins on the Course”
PGA Players vote to donate 1/2 of their 2010 earnings from Wed. Pro-Ams to the 2 foundations benefiting Smith & Green.
New York Times, LARRY DORMAN, Feb. 13, 2010
PEBBLE BEACH: Before Chris Smith said anything else on Friday, he wanted to tell every player on the PGA Tour how grateful he was. And before Ken Green could talk about how he intended to write each player on tour a letter of thanks, he had to pause, clear his throat and compose himself.

Smith, 40, and Green, 51, barely knew each other when Smith was starting his tour career in 1996, about the time Green’s was winding down. But the two golfers are now linked, by horrific car accidents that killed members of their families last June, and by the unprecedented act of support instituted — but not announced — in December by their extended family of PGA Tour professionals.

The news came out last week that active PGA Tour players voted almost unanimously to donate half of their 2010 earnings from Wednesday pro-ams to the two foundations benefiting Smith and Green. Ross Berlin, the senior vice president for player relations with the PGA Tour, estimated the 2 foundations would each net about $200,000.

A member of the Player Advisory Council, which recommended that the board of directors approve the measure before each tour player voted whether to opt in or opt out, said there was no opposition. “Nobody even hesitated,” said the former council member, Paul Goydos, who was tied for the 36-hole lead at 10 under par in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. “To me, that says a lot about the membership. Chris and Ken had a rough time. “Let’s be honest; we’re giving away on the order of $110 million to charity every year, we’re playing a game for an average of $5 million a week for a living. We probably can’t give back enough. We can’t do enough charity.”

Because he had played sparingly on the PGA Tour in the 3 seasons before the fiery car accident that killed his wife, Beth, and severely injured his daughter, Abigail, 16, and son, Cameron, 12, Smith said he was taken aback when Berlin called him to tell him about the player vote. “It blew me away,” Smith said. “It was just unbelievable. I told Ross I would really appreciate it if at some point you gave me an avenue to thank the membership and to thank the tour because the tour has really done some amazing things.” Smith will be playing his first competitive golf in 7 months next week in the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico, in no small part because of the persistence of his children, who have pushed him to get back in the arena; to his friend and fellow tour pro Jerry Kelly, who lobbied for Smith with the tournament; and to the Mayakoba tournament director, Taylor Ives, who went to his board and secured the invitation. “We compete against each other every single week, but we are a big family,” Kelly said. “And we really feel for anybody in our family who goes through the kind of stuff that Chris and Ken have gone through. That’s — you know, it still sends chills up my spine just talking about what happened. Chris was one of my best friends out there, and so was Beth, and to be able to do this for both of them was the best part.”

In a recreational vehicle crash in Mississippi, Green’s girlfriend, brother and German shepherd died, and he ultimately had to have

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his right leg amputated. Green was fitted with a prosthesis below his right knee and has been trying to work his way back to the Champions Tour by relearning the golf swing that won five tour events. He suffered another blow when his son, Hunter, 21, was found dead of unknown causes last month in his dormitory room at Southern Methodist.

He sometimes wonders what the point is, Green said, and at times he feels things are getting better. He said he was flabbergasted by the tour players’ voting him a share of their earnings. “I was humbled — again,” he said. “Let’s face it, a good portion of those kids that are out there now don’t even know me, and they’re still doing this for myself and for Chris. It just shows that there’s a lot of good heart out there.”

Tour pros make up the largest group of independent contractors in major professional sports. The small percentage who reach the PGA Tour tend to be highly motivated, fiercely competitive and self-reliant individuals who go their own way much more than other athletes do. They have no teammates or owners, they tell their managers what to do, and they fire coaches whenever they want. And this year, they all agreed to give away half of their Wednesday pro-am earnings. “All of the players have actually stepped up and agreed to it on their own,” Kelly said. “That says an awful lot about our membership.”

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