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Sorenstam & Faxon Put the 'Pro' in 'Pro Golfer

By: Jay Flemma


Annika Sorenstam has still got the magic.Hundreds of delighted fans got to see that first-hand when she and the PGA Tour's Brad Faxon visited Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, N.J., to host the club's annual Charity Classic last month. Everyone came away deeply impressed by Annika the person as well as Annika the professional golfer on every level. She was exactly how golf fans like their Sunday heroes - affable, accessible, and engaging, and she charmed everyone with her grace, class, and sincerity. She had wit, sparkle, and - man alive! - did she still have game.

Annika Shakes Hand of Attendee

It restores your faith to know that in an age where the media so often anoints anything remotely associated with celebrity to near-archangel status, that some are actually deserving of the accolades.

"Come on, Annika, will you miss one?" Faxon puckishly asked as Annika put her sixth consecutive 60-yard pitch shot into a peach bucket to the delight of the fans. "She still hits it to two feet, every shot! I'll just have to hit it inside her . . ."

"You can try, Brad. You can try," Annika retorted good-naturedly, as another ball dented the twine lining the bottom of the bucket.

"You're supposed to be retired!" Fax responded. More laughter rose from the fans, who were mesmerized by Annika's singular precision.

And so it was all day - Annika and Brad greeting every group that played in support of the various charitable foundations, Annika and Brad putting on a short-game skills demonstration with magical prowess David Copperfield would applaud, and Annika and Brad playing a nine-hole skins game with various partners battling back and forth over the back nine of Forsgate, one-upping each other with one fantastic golf shot after the other, all with a witty banter and laid-back ease.

"This course is such a special place," said Annika brightly, praising Forsgate's bold, brilliant and beautiful design. "I'm thrilled and honored to join the long list of great names that have played here."

Indeed, Forsgate does have a long and storied tradition - both in the long list of mega-stars who have played here and in terms of philanthropy.

"We need the community more than they need us, so we do whatever we can to use golf to give back to others," said Forsgate owner Chris Schiavone, whose Forsgate Foundation has given over a quarter-of-a-million dollars to local charities in the last decade alone. "Golf does so much good in our lives, it's incumbent upon us to return the favor to others, pay the goodwill forward. What better way to do that than with the game we love and that brings so much happiness to our lives?"

"That's right," agreed Sorenstam, who'll send an additional $15,000 to various children's charities in the name of her foundation, which focuses on children's nutrition and exercise programs. "For me it's about teaching a generation of kids how to empower themselves by making healthy decisions in their lives."

Sorenstam, universally regarded as one of the most dominant players in the history of women's golf, has been making a difference and setting the gold standard for altruism ever since her retirement from the LPGA in 2008. This year she was selected as the recipient of the United States Golf Association's 2012 Bob Jones Award. The USGA's highest honor has been presented annually since 1955 in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf.

"It was a terrific pairing, Forsgate and Annika," said Maura Bronson, a local golf fan who came to watch the exhibition. "And wasn't Brad Faxon a terrific addition? The two of them complimented each other so well."

Indeed, the addition of Faxon was a welcome surprise and monumental success. Filling in at the last minute for Ken Griffey, Jr., a late scratch, Faxon and Annika worked together like Schilling and Varitek, Bradshaw and Swann, Trammell and Whitaker, playing off each other's wit like they had done it a thousand times before.

Brad Faxon on Right Chatting with Fan

And Forsgate Country Club's fabled Banks Course played its part admirably as well. The final course designed by the "Bloodline" - C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor and Charles "Steamshovel" Banks - mighty Forsgate proved a formidable foe, its fiendishly intricate greens beguiling even two of the better putters in the history of professional golf.

"Brad here once went 362 holes on the PGA Tour without a three-putt," said Annika.

"Not today," admitted a slightly chagrined Faxon. "I three-putted my first green today . . ." he confided. But then he brightened.

"This is one of the best courses I have ever seen. I really like the quirky, interesting courses and I especially love Macdonald, Raynor and Banks courses," Faxon explained. "This course is similar to other great courses I've played of theirs like Fox Chapel, National, [Golf Links of America] and Mid-Ocean. Like many other great classic courses, Forsgate makes you think, it's not necessarily easy and it's not designed so 'everything is in front of you.' I really love every hole here."

That sentiment was echoed by not only Annika, who called it "without doubt" one of her absolute favorite courses, but all the players at the event.

"What do I do here?" asked golfer John Kraivec when confronted with a shot from the side of the fiendish 16th green's double plateau. "Do I pitch and check? Putt? Chip? Bump and run? There are so many options around these greens."

Still another player marveled at the Biarritz green at the 17th hole like a kid in a candy store.

"Dude! Unbelievable! Is that two greens?" he asked. "That's astounding!"

Golf architect Stephen Kay smiled in response. "No, actually," he responded proudly. "That's all one green . . . nearly 100 yards from front to back."

"No way!" came the response.

Yes, "Way" . . . Indeed it is one green. But then again everyone marvels at Forsgate with the same delight and amazement the first time they see the Biarritz . . . or the perfect horseshoe at the par-3 12th . . . or the magnificent Cape green at the par-5 eighth . . . or the reverse Redan at the par-3 seventh . . . or the Double Plateau . . . or the Chocolate Drop . . . stop me any time.

"It features all the wonders of golf architecture that Macdonald, Raynor and Banks made famous here in America. I bet it's a wondrous place to be a member," said Faxon.

Well let's ask some members. "I've been a member here 17 years, and I wouldn't be a member anywhere else," said Rick Malouf. "It's the best around."

"It's a great course with great golfers, great members and great friends," added Jeffrey Daitz, whose team of himself, Bill Lako, Frank Vitelli and Richard Scardina shot a sizzling 46 (25-under) to take the pro-am.

"It really requires you to think," said club champion Bill Henry, not only a veteran of two USGA Senior Amateurs (2009 and '11) but an accomplished magician under the stage name of Henry Carlyle and who makes flames come out of his wallet while being interviewed. "Moreover, there are so many great players here that you can always find a competitive game, no matter how old or young you are. There are an especially large number of excellent senior players."

Seniors, juniors and everyone in between: a grateful golf world has welcomed the remarkable resurgence of Forsgate over the past decade as it has once again resumed its rightful place as one of America's most historic clubs and best designs. Time passes and the names change - where once it was Lopez and Hogan and Palmer, now it's Sorenstam and Faxon and Griffey - Forsgate endures, but not for its own benefit, for golf's.

That's because Forsgate understands one of the key altruistic ethos and mantras of golf: it's not what you do that makes you great, it's what you do for others. The Forsgate Charity Classic is just another example of the club's selflessness and generosity, perhaps its most enduring contribution to the game we love.

"This is how these events are supposed to be - light and fun, yet generous and philanthropic," added Bronson. "I can't wait to come back next year."

Make that two of us, Maura. In fact, make that all of us.

Sorenstam (middle) Surveying Putt on Forsgate Green

The Sabermetrics of a Celebrity Charity Golf Event

As an aside, this was a tough assignment for me to cover. As the de facto pop-culture pundit among America's golf writers (by virtue of my being a New York City entertainment/IP/Internet lawyer and former rock music critic) it's my obligation, indeed my raison d'etre, to warn you if I think a celebrity-studded charity golf event is really, in my opinion, just a grisly shuck in disguise. (See "Turning Stone Casino" for more on that subject . . . $300 tickets? I ask you . . .)

That's why you guys love me - no guile and beholden to no one - but I digress . . .

So here I am, covering a celebrity-charity golf event with a megawatt star and brand like Annika and held at a private, "Golden Age" country club that is striving for a higher profile in the highly competitive New Jersey and national golf market. You may ask yourself - and me - "How is this not a crass corporate vulture preying on mass consumer culture?" The answer is as easy as 1-2-3: Annika-Faxon-Forsgate.

Now the formula for measuring the altruism and sincerity (or, conversely, the simoniacal greed) of any celebrity sports event was set forth in "Hemingway's Second Law of Thermodynamic Literature":

(The First Law, of course, is "Don't ask about what happened in Vegas . . .")

Anyway, as Hemingway luminously demonstrates, the "Second Law of Thermodynamic Literature" states that "Gas = Hot Air/Fact." It works like this:

When you go to a celebrity-charity golf event like this, you have to keep in mind the difference between an "event" and a "non-event."

Events are not self-congratulating. Non-events skip "humble-bragging" altogether and move straight into throwing how great they are right in your face.

The PR for Events is reasonably grounded and informative. PR for Non-events is badly warmed-over baboon dung parfait replete with clichés, half-truths and glowing superlatives.

Events tell you they are grateful you are participating. Non-events tell you how privileged you should feel to be a part of them.

Now as machismo and braggadocio are the coin of the realm to insipid posers and leeches who suckle at the teat of golf's inherent virtues, to figure out how full of baboon dung the P.R. releases are (and therefore the Non-event may be) you calculate Gas = Hot Air/Fact or:

Number of Celebrities Invited to Participate TIMES the Number of Celebrities who Actually Attend and Participate, PLUS

Number of Press Releases TIMES the Number of Adjectives per Press Release AND DIVIDE THAT BY: The number of even-handed truthful statements of fact contained in the release as determined by an independent and reasonably prudent reader.

Forsgate simply released two press releases that were honestly worded, even-handedly described and which were gracious in inviting the public to participate. Moreover, they were filled with facts, not bragging or swaggering. Great work Suzy Abrams Jones, the PR person who puts truth in advertising at the forefront.

Additionally, they invited only two celebrities - Annika and Ken Griffey, Jr. Faxon came in relief of Griffey when an emergency required the baseball great to be elsewhere. In the press releases, there was very little "hot air," only two celebrities, but lots of facts. So the Gas Factor was remarkably low.

First of all, neither Forsgate nor Annika think more of themselves than they deserve, even though they deserve the great praise they get.

Annika has become an icon in the world of women's sports. Not only is she our generation's dominant and most recognizable female golf champion, she is a lot more than just a great female golfer - she was everybody's Birdie Buddy, not only the most recognizable affable, accessible, and engaging. While she is still the "First Lady of Professional Golf," she's not a prima donna, if you understand the nuance. How is she not stuck up or spoiled? Easy - she's neon-cool, gracious and just sticks to what she does best - golf.

When you become mega-successful you're expected to live up to expectations. She did that in spades - a remarkable achievement for someone who has such universal appeal. As Winston Wolf said, "just because you are a character doesn't mean you have character." Annika has character, but isn't so much of a character herself that it overshadows what she does. She's trying to make what she does more important than who she is.

I don't think anyone uttered the word "brand" the entire day, and coming from a trademark lawyer, that's a compliment! There was no "sell" at the event. It was all about foundations and charity and great golf. We didn't hear word one about ANNIKA Vineyards or ANNIKA Fragrances or a future line of dresses. And that's what made it great.

But on that note: Psst! Annika! Issey Miyake! Issey Miyake!

Anyway, when it comes to celebrity-charity golf events "keep it simple, keep it honest, keep it grounded." The results will speak more loudly than words.

Are you listening Donald Trump?

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.