Commentary: Taking to the links for a cause

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | JUNE 23, 2009 7:21 AM

Whether they like it or not, Iowa athletes are celebrities. They must accept this fact. And as celebrities, they must accept the power and responsibility that comes with the position.

Several of them did on Monday afternoon, when they participated in the 2009 Swing with the Celebrities Golf Tournament, a charity event on behalf of Special Olympics Iowa.

The sun was scorching over Brown Deer Golf Course in Coralville, but that didn’t stop former and current Hawkeye athletes and coaches from teeing it up. I was excited about playing before I knew that “celebrities” were joining each foursome, but when I found this out, I was thrilled.

I was thrilled not just for the chance to meet them but to know that each one of them were playing because they believed in helping disabled athletes across the state. Former Iowa basketball players Mark Gannon and Troy Skinner were among those that braved the heat, as were current football players Tony Moeaki, Andy Schulze, and Don Nordmann.

We played best-shot format, which I really enjoy. It puts less pressure on each shot knowing I had four teammates to back me up. And believe me, less pressure is a good thing in golf.

The celebrity on my team was senior offensive lineman Dan Doering, who said he plays golf once in a while, but with his busy football schedule, doesn’t get on the course as often as he would like.

Could’ve fooled me. Doering birdied the first hole by himself. Our team used his drive, his chip, and his putt on the par four. This energized the 6-6, 300-pounder, but his highlight of the day was the tournament in general and the cause it benefited.

“For me, it was just getting on the golf course and meeting people and talking to people,” he said. “It was a good time getting everybody together like that for Special Olympics.”

After a slow start, our team put together a strong back nine to finish at 10 under par with a 62. It wasn’t quite enough to take home the championship, though, as former Iowa basketball player James Moses led his team to a winning score of 58. Senior linebacker A.J. Edds also won the longest drive contest on hole No. 4.

An auction was held afterwards that included such items as a Kirk Ferentz-autographed football and a tour of Kinnick Stadium. Herky himself even managed to make an appearance.

All the proceeds of the tournament went to Special Olympics Iowa, a nonprofit organization, to fund its many events every year that allow its 11,350 athletes to compete in 22 different sports.

Doering, whose performance ranged somewhere between Tiger Woods and Roy McAvoy, said it was an easy decision to support a cause such as this.

“Special Olympics Iowa is a good opportunity for kids with special needs to get into sports, enjoy them, have fun, and be the best they can be at what they want to do,” Doering said.

Mark Reed , the president and CEO of Special Olympics Iowa, thought the golf tournament was a huge success, in part because of the celebrity appearances.

“It was a great event,” Reed said. “Everybody seemed to have the right attitude. They were here for the athletes and wanted to make sure that we could serve more people so that was great.

“I think it makes a big difference when people from the University of Iowa can step in and make sure we have some celebrities. They always want to come out here every year and play.”

I agree with Reed. It does make a big difference when celebrities support an event. There are times when sports are about so much more than wins and losses, and I’m proud that these athletes took a day to give their valuable time to a good cause.

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