Tour Report: Birdies for the Brave draws A-list cast

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Chris Condon/PGA TOURBirdies for the Brave founder Phil Mickelson (with wife Amy) have raised millions for wounded veterans.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

PHOTO GALLERY: Mickelson, Clinton, Nicklaus appear at TPC Sawgrass

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — With a  Black Hawk helicopter as a backdrop and two rows of golf carts standing ready in the distance, the Birdies for the Brave military appreciation gala and pro-am kicked off on a flawless Friday morning at TPC Sawgrass.

A who’s who of the game was in attendance, including the tournament host and Birdies for the Brave founder, Phil Mickelson, as well as the legendary Jack Nicklaus. Former President Bill Clinton was also among the pro-am competitors along with entertainers Vince Gill and Darious Rucker, who will stage a benefit concert on Saturday night.

Among the PGA TOUR, Champions Tour and LPGA TOUR pros competing in the two-day event are Mark O’Meara, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Fuzzy Zoeller, Juli Inkster and Hubert Green. Servicemen and women in uniform were also in attendance for the opening ceremonies.

"When we look at this flag and what it represents, it comes with a high cost for many many soldiers, dating back from before this was actually a country, who sacrificed their lives to the current men and women of the military who put their lives on the line and at risk day in and day out," Mickelson said. "Our freedoms, our civil liberties and rights come with a great price.

"We all have a responsibility whether we’re on the front line or whether we’re a civilian to pay respects and to contribute all that we can to this great country to make sure that the men and women who do put their lives on the line da-in and day-out know how much we appreciate it and respect it and understand it and never take it for granted."

President Clinton said he hopes events like the one this weekend being held on the flagship course of the PGA TOUR not only raise much-needed funds but also increase awareness about the wounded veterans.

"These last two conflicts we’ve fought were not like any in our nation’s history in the sense that we had a far higher rate of survivors than ever before because of improvements in battlefield medicine," Clinton said. "Therefore, we’ve got a far higher percentage of those who served who come home bearing various wounds of war than ever before and they need our on-going support.

"We also have this almost bizarre situation where a lot of these young men and women got extraodinary training in the military but because they don’t have conventional American academic credentials, they’ve had difficulty finding work equal to the skills they actually have."

Nicklaus, who said he is working on some golf course projects targeted for the military, has seen the need first-hand.

"I’ve been involved in quite a few of these types of events with the Wounded Warriors," he said, taking a break from posing for pictures to head to the range. "Each one of them makes you feel good because you’re seeing the results and the people you’re helping. It gets to you down in your heart.

“And you say, these guys need some help and they do. … To be involved in these things, it makes you feel like maybe you’re contributing. You couldn’t go overseas but you contribute here."

Shortly after Friday’s shotgun start, Mickelson’s wife, Amy, also hosted a baby shower for 30 Jacksonville, Fla., area Navy wives who are expecting children while their husbands are deployed overseas. Also serving as a hostess was Cathy Justice, whose husband Jim owns The Greenbrier Resort, and special guests included Phil Mickelson’s mother Mary and Amy Mickelson’s mother Renee McBride.

For more information on the Birdies for the Brave event, visit