The Masters of Giving: PGA's Charity Leaders Golf for Good in Augusta

Sal holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

master_goodness_insideLadies and gentlemen, please welcome to the first tee...professional golf, the definitive me-sport.

Reduced to its core, it’s a game of two moving parts: the golfer and his swing. Hole after hole. Tournament after tournament. Year after year.

This week, however, will be different. The world's eyes are focused on Augusta, Georgia, for the Masters—and the return of Tiger Woods to public view. The tournament is expected to be the most-viewed event in the sport's history. 

Yet while this week's competition will be the ultimate in individual spectacle, it also offers a moment to look at what these guys do off the course. Because while there’s no I in golf, there sure as heck is one in give. And for a sport with a self-centered center, professional golfers dole out gobs of time and money to charity.

In 2009, the Professional Golfers' Association's charitable contributions totaled $108 million. Annually, more than 2,000 charities receive benefits from the PGA TOUR, Champions Tour, and Nationwide Tour events. These charities include the American Cancer Society, The First Tee, Meals on Wheels, and Teach for America, to name a few. And many of the 100-plus tournaments on these three tours are set up as non-profit organizations designed to donate 100 percent of net proceeds to local charities.

As the sporting world turns to Augusta, here are four golfers in the field whose charitable endeavors struck a chord with TakePart.

TIGER WOODS

After the fastest and furthest fall from grace in sporting history, the answer to the following question—“What is Tiger Woods’ greatest off-the-course conquest?”—seems like Amateur Hour on Lowest Common Denominator Humor Night, right? True, by his own admission, Woods has not been committed to his wife over the past few years. But his commitment to charity, specifically the Tiger Woods Foundation, has been ironclad. Millions of dollars have been donated and thousands of children, teenagers, and families have been positively affected. In fact, it’s the sheer size and scope of Woods’ philanthropy that’s most impressive. As reported by ESPN, in 2008 the foundation awarded $2.9 million in grants and individual college scholarships. Then there’s the Tiger Woods Learning Center, a 35,000-square-foot educational facility in Anaheim, California, which offers classes ranging from aerospace rocketry to forensic science, and has reached more than 20,000 youths and families since its inception. According to Giving Back, in 2006, Woods contributed $9.5 million of his own money to his foundations.

ZACH JOHNSON

Where: Cedar Rapids, Iowa. When: summer 2008. What: historic flooding that submerged 400 city blocks leading Governor Chet Culver to declare 83 of the Iowa’s 99 counties disaster areas. For hometown hero Zach Johnson—the flood waters reached his mother’s downtown office but just missed his father’s chiropractic clinic—the choice was clear. Act, and act fast. By September, the 2007 Masters winner had organized the Zach Johnson Tournament Challenge, a pro-am event that raised more than $350,000 for the Iowa Disaster Fund. For more on the historic flooding, check out this heartbreaking video—Zach Johnson: 3 Days in June.

ERNIE ELS

In 2008, Ernie Els went public with the news that his son Ben, then 6, was autistic. (Autism affects social interaction and communication skills, and is the fastest-growing developmental disability: in California alone, the number of people diagnosed with the disorder grew 1,148 percent from 1987 to 2007.) As Els and his wife Liezl learned more about the disease, they understood that they could and should do more than ensure that Ben received first-rate care. In 2009, they established The Els for Autism Foundation. The husband-and-wife team have set a lofty goal: they hope to raise $30 million for a 300-student school and research facility, the Center of Excellence. The Center, which will be built in Florida, plans to incorporate all the services—education, therapy, research—that a child with autism needs in order to become a productive member of society.

PHIL MICKELSON

In the short span of six weeks last summer, Phil Mickelson’s family was struck with not one, but two breast cancer diagnoses. First came Amy, his wife of 14 years. Mickelson immediately suspended his play on the PGA Tour to devote himself full-time to Amy’s care and recovery. Then, in July 2009, his mother, Mary, was diagnosed with the same disease. Both women ended up undergoing surgery at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and the long-term prognoses for both are good. When Mickelson returned to the tour, he did so wearing a pink ribbon to support breast cancer awareness. Like that should have surprised us—shining a light on worthy causes has been the spine of his off-the-course life. Through the Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation, the three-time major championship winner has been an active participant in a handful of charities—most notably Birdies for the Brave, which Mickelson and his wife created to support troops injured during combat. Here’s how it works. For each birdie or eagle made on TOUR throughout the season, a contribution of $100 for a birdie or $500 for an eagle is made to two veterans groups: Special Operations Warrior Foundation and Homes For Our Troops.

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