Last week, Padraig Harrington joined Mary Davis, the managing director of Special Olympics Europe and Eurasia, to announce that the PGA TOUR golfer has agreed to be a Special Olympics Global Ambassador.
"It's just fantastic to see the Special Olympics logo on your shirt today, Padraig," Davis said before accompanying the three-time major champion to a clinic he performed for Special Olympians from North Florida at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
While Harrington spent about 10 minutes talking about the proper stance, set-up and swing, Harrington's real value came when the Special Olympians pulled out their clubs and began hitting balls themselves.
Harrington put down his clubs and took it upon himself to tee up the ball for each of the golfers, a job he performed admirably.
"I see that my real value here today is to do this for you guys," he said, laughing. "Donít mind me. I'll just keep teeing them up for you and get out of the way."
That seemed to suit Cal Fisher, Carolyn Smith, Kyle Muzina and Nicole Stanley just fine, the four Special Olympians participating alongside Harrington.
The funny thing was, the winner of two British Opens and a PGA Championship, as well as two other PGA TOUR events and 16 international tournaments was more than happy to oblige.
First to show off his abilities was 8-year-old Fisher, who hit three balls with his pitching wedge before stopping and stepping away from the tee. When Harrington asked his new friend where he was going, Harrington quickly figured it out as Fisher emerged from the crowd holding the driver he had pulled from his golf bag.
"Ah, the big stick," said Harrington to Fisher, who had clearly grown tired of hitting wimpy wedges. Moments later, with a full swing, Fisher, who has Down's syndrome, was lashing balls high into the Florida sky.
Harrington gave a wide smile followed by "brilliant" after each shot. The crowd gathered around to watch could only clap and cheer, while Fisher fairly beamed.
"This," Harrington said, pointing to Fisher, "is what itís all about."
After the clinic ended, Laury Livsey visited with Harrington to find out why the Irishman has such a passion for the Special Olympics.
This is a pretty big thing for you to serve as Global Ambassador. What do you hope to accomplish? There is a great movement in Ireland, and it really is very impressive-the profile of the Special Olympics in Ireland and the work Mary and the other volunteers do in Ireland. It's nice to be part of the global scene, and hopefully I'll be able to raise the profile and help somewhat with encouraging volunteers and coaches to help out.
Your first involvement with the Special Olympics came in 2003. How was that experience? It meant a lot. The Special Olympics had the World Games in Ireland (Dublin) in 2003, and I helped out then. The country got behind it, and there was a tremendous goodwill feeling throughout the country.
Is it safe to say that seven years later, your involvement as a Global Ambassador has its roots with those Games in your home country? Yes, it came from 2003 when I helped, and Iíve been in contact with the Special Olympics over the years looking to do some things. But generally what I've done has been more on the Irish front, and now this has grown to be more global. It really suits me because I am a global player, and I can do this in Europe or the States or in Asia. I can help out all Special Olympic athletes all over the world.
You are expecting many more days like this one? Yes, I'm going to do more of these clinics at PGA TOUR events and European Tour events.
Golf and Special Olympics seem to be a nice marriage. Would you concur? It's really what golf in the Special Olympics has done, given these athletes a movement to compete and make friends. It's really what it is doing, giving them somewhere to get together where they can appreciate the competition and enjoy the camaraderie of it all.
You've talked about how enjoyable these clinics are. Your thoughts? When you turn out and do something like this today, you get so much more back out of it than you give. These guys are brilliant. They're fantastic with their enthusiasm and joy. It's great to be around them. You just have to meet them to know what I mean.
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