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Pros keep coming back to Niswonger Classic for good cause

Jeff Birchfield • Aug 13, 2018 at 6:23 PM

BRISTOL, Va. — Professional golfers are frequently asked to participate in fundraisers, but major tournament winners Larry Mize and Corey Pavin say the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Classic ranks at the top of the list.

The pair of legendary champions were joined by stars from the PGA, Champions, LPGA and Web.com tours at The Olde Farm Golf Course on Monday to play in the annual tournament. It came after they were treated to a concert by the legendary Smokey Robinson the night before in Greeneville.

The experience just adds to the good work they’ve seen as the result of the golf tournament fundraiser.

“This is my fourth or fifth time here, and this event is the top of the list,” said Mize, the 1987 Masters champion. “They do a wonderful job with this event. From the concert, to the accommodations to everything, it’s a great time. I enjoy coming here, but with everything they do with the hospital, it’s fantastic. Getting to know Scott Niswonger and all the work they do here keeps bringing me back.”

Pavin, the 1995 U.S. Open champion, made his first appearance at the Niswonger Classic in 2010. After having such a good time, he has been coming back ever since.

“They treat us wonderfully, but it’s such a tremendous cause with the Niswonger Children’s Hospital,” Pavin said. “It’s not just the kids you’re helping. You’re helping the families, and the whole structure is the best situation they can be in with all that’s going on. But there is the tremendous care, and that’s the most important thing. There aren’t always happy endings, but the kids are treated with great respect and care.”

Len Mattice, the 2003 Masters runner-up, commented that the money raised for the children’s hospital is the reason he comes back annually. The trio of pros also talked about golf, including their major championship memories and what Tiger Woods competing for the PGA Championship on Sunday means to the game.

LAST MAJOR OF SEASON

With the PGA Championship, the last major championship of the season, Augusta, Ga., native Mize recalled his 1987 Masters championship when he won in a sudden-death playoff over Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros. Six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus presented Mize with the winner’s green jacket.

“I remember the ending, and to win that tournament in my hometown was just incredible,” Mize recalled. “Obviously, the way I did it with a pitch-in (to beat Norman on the second playoff hole) was very exciting. It’s just a great memory and still hard to believe I’m a Masters champion.”

Mattice shot a final-round 65, but lost to Mike Weir in a playoff at the 2003 Masters. He wound up 7-under, two strokes ahead of Phil Mickelson, for the tournament.

“That was obviously a great weekend for me,” Mattice said. “Mike Weir made a seven-footer on the last hole to tie. I didn’t win the playoff, but to shoot 10-under on the weekend was a great accomplishment for me.”

Pavin recounted the 1995 U.S. Open in Southhampton, N.Y., where he finished two strokes ahead of Norman. It is best remembered for Pavin celebrating after a stellar approach shot on the final hole of the tournament.

“It’s fresh on my mind still,” Pavin said. “Obviously, I remember the last shot and all that happened. At that time, I was 35 and I had won 13 tournaments before that, so I was ready to win a major championship. I’m glad to have accomplished it.”

TIGER RED-SHIRT SUNDAY 

The pros commented on Tiger Woods’ run over the weekend. He shot a low round of 64 on Sunday to finish 14-under, two strokes behind Brooks Koepka.

“They were sure excited, and his run was incredible,” Mize said. “Brooks Kopeka’s play was fantastic, and Tiger coming back was good for golf. It’s exciting to see.”

Added Pavin: “The more people relevant, the better — especially if it’s a guy like Tiger or Phil. It’s a neat time in golf to see the old guard playing against the younger players. It’s covering a big spectrum, and that’s good for golf.”

Mattice weighed in on the subject as well.

“It’s unbelievable for the sport for Tiger to be back,” he said. “For him to compete at the highest level and be in contention for a couple of the majors, it’s great for golf. Ratings go up, sponsorships go up and it drives people out. People want to turn on the TV to see him. It’s great for the tour.”

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