Kasey Torres, a 15-year old from Los Angeles with a 1.7 handicap, who regularly shoots in the mid-70s; Sam Wimbrow, an 18-year old from North Carolina and one of the top First Tee golfers in the United States, who earlier this year shot a 68; Matthew Gang, a 13-year old Special Olympics athlete from Virginia, who started golfing at the age 6; and Sergeant Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient from Fort Lewis, Washington, who lost an arm saving the lives of two fellow Army Rangers during battle in Afghanistan.
On Monday, June 23, 2014, these golfers will tee off in a foursome with Jordan Spieth, the 9th ranked golfer in the world, a PGA Tour champion and reigning Rookie of the Year, at the 2014 Congressional Pro-Am, sponsored by Brightspot. Since 2012, Brightspot has been bringing together individuals from a wide array of backgrounds to provide a memorable and unique experience at one of the most historic courses in the nation. For the second straight year, Spieth will headline an outstanding field of professionals, who will join other youth golfers from The First Tee, Special Olympians, and wounded service members from all over the country. With the idea of unity and inclusion for athletes of all ability levels, Jordan looks forward to serving as co-host for this year’s event with his partners and friends at Brightspot.
"I founded my Charitable Trust with the aim of supporting special needs youth, military families, and junior golfers, said Spieth. "When David approached me about co-hosting this event, which provides such an unbelievable opportunity for all of three of these groups, I leapt at the chance. I am honored to have my name as a part of this event, but even more so to be on the course Monday afternoon playing alongside these great golfers."
Three years ago, at the 2011 Chevron World Challenge, David Gang, Co-Founder and CEO, of Brightspot, watched with great pride as his son, Matthew, who has Down syndrome, walked 18 holes with Tiger Woods – the first time a Special Olympian had ever walked a course with the top-ranked player in the world. Inspired by this moment and what it meant to his son, as well as the mission of Special Olympics Unified Sports®, Gang sought an opportunity to pair more Special Olympics athletes with PGA professionals.
Gang united with the Tiger Woods Foundation to find a home for his tournament. In 2012, with the then-AT&T National at Congressional Country Club, just thirty minutes from Brightspot's headquarters in Reston, Virginia, he saw the opportunity. With two foursomes in the tournament pro-am, Gang invited four of the top Special Olympics golfers from around the country – Tyler Lagasse (Massachusetts), Tyler Whitehurst (Florida), Scott Rohrer (South Carolina), and Joel Murray (Louisiana) – to participate. Joined by a Brightspot's client, Derrick Kraemer, PGA TOUR professionals, Gary Woodland and Brendan Steele, the event epitomized the ideals of opportunity and inclusion that Gang sought to promote as part of the mission of Brightspot.
"My favorite part about the Brightspot Digital Pro-Am is showing that I can compete on the same course as the best players in the world," recounted Rohrer, who will be playing at Congressional for the third consecutive year on Monday.
The 2012 AT&T National also sparked a relationship between Gang and Spieth. Jordan had just finished his award-winning freshman year at The University of Texas and earned an exemption to compete at Congressional. During the week of the AT&T National, at an event hosted by Sheila Johnson, Gang met Spieth and was inspired to extend this partnership to Jordan.
The winter after the first Pro-Am, Brightspot returned to the Tiger Woods World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Westlake, California. Scott Rohrer was invited to play, representing Special Olympics athletes. Also included was Evin Davis, a high school junior from The First Tee of Pasadena. The following spring, Gang and the Tiger Woods Foundation met with a group of wounded veterans and made plans to include them in the annual tournament. The tournament’s goals were established and long-term plans to include these groups in this unique PGA Tour event were set.
David Feherty, a former professional golfer and current broadcaster for CBS Sports and the Golf Channel, founded Troops First Foundation in 2008, with a mission to provide support to members of the military wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. "For so many of our Warriors returning with injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan, golf has proven to be an exceptionally therapeutic activity, helping our nation’s veterans recover both physically and mentally," remarked Feherty. "Being included in Brightspot's Pro-Am has meant so much to the participants and their families. It is also an opportunity to remind everyone that there is no charity involved in anything we do - it is recognition of a debt that we owe these incredible men and women."
In June 2013, twelve foursomes comprised of athletes from Special Olympics, golfers from The First Tee of Greater Washington D.C., wounded servicemen from Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, and Brighspot clients and employees took to the Blue Course at Congressional for a memorable afternoon. Jordan joined the first group off the tee for a great experience. Five months later, at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge Pro-Am in California, Jordan once again shared the course with an exceptional collection of golfers including Bakari Bolden, from The First Tee of South Los Angeles, and Scott Rohrer, now a regular tournament partner with Gang.
Next week, Spieth will return to Congressional, not only as a player in the 2014 Congressional Pro-Am, but also as the co-host, along with Brightspot The event has continued to grow with golfers from The First Tee and Special Olympics now flying in from coast-to-coast to participate. The Pro-Am has become a signature event for The First Tee, expanding into a weeklong experience that will include a career day at Brightspot, a tour of the United States Capitol, a visit to the Washington, D.C. museums, monuments, and memorials, and a behind-the-scenes look of the Quicken Loans National.
For Lennard Long of The First Tee of Greater Washington DC, the Pro-Am presents an opportunity to learn from the best players in the world, "In all of The First Tee events I have participated in, the most valuable experience has been learning from the other golfers around me. The opportunity to play Congressional with professionals, watching how they handle difficult situations and talking with them about their approach, is going to help me continue to improve, putting me closer to reaching my goals."
The tournament blends the social missions of the Tiger Woods Foundation, Brightspot and the Jordan Spieth Charitable Trust to provide unique opportunities to golfers from The First Tee and Special Olympics, as well as wounded soldiers.
On Monday morning, as Jordan tees off with Kasey, Sam, Matthew, and Leroy, they will be showcasing joy, inclusion, and the power of sport to bring us together. When the final putt drops on the 18th hole, they will leave the course, remembering not what it was like to play Congressional individually, but what it meant to play it together.