By Matt Wiley

Standing in the middle of the 18th green at the TPC of Tampa Bay in nearby Lutz after the conclusion of the 23rd annual Encompass Insurance Pro-Am of Tampa Bay golf tournament on April 15, I listened as the crowd roared, breathing it all in.

Of course, it wasn’t meant for me. I wasn’t being awarded a giant check or a trophy. In fact, a professional would probably have written me a check to not be on his team, had I participated.

Nope, instead of me, the checks and trophies went to Michael Allen for winning the professional portion of the tournament, his second Champions Tour victory, and to Joe Theismann, the former quarterback for the Washington Redskins during their Super Bowl XVII victory in 1983, who won the pro-am portion of the tournament.

But, the feeling was still surreal, people clapping all around me as if I had just birdied my way to victory.

Moments before, the trophies for the winners had been parachuted onto the fairway of the 18th hole by U.S. Air Force Para Commandos as the waiting crowd looked to the sky. Fittingly, Van Halen’s “Jump” blared through the speakers as the Commandos glided through the air.

None of this would have been possible without tournament director Amy Hawk, the Arbor Greene resident who has been in charge of the Pro-Am for the past nine years.

“This year was a huge success,” Amy says. “Even with the new title sponsor. We had a record Sunday crowd and perfect weather.”

The tournament had been called the Outback Pro-Am from 2004-11, but switched title sponsors to Encompass Insurance for the 2012 tournament. Over the past 25 years, the event has raised more than $9 million for various charities.

Theismann was not the only celebrity in attendance, playing amongst the professional and amateur golfers of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Champion’s Tour, a series of tournaments for professional golfers over the age of 50. The pros played in twosomes with an amateur throughout the three-day contest, some of whom were celebrities, such as Tampa Bay Lightning founder and Honorary Chairman of the tournament Phil Esposito — who teed off on Saturday with a hockey stick to the delight of Lightning mascot Thunderbug, to commemorate Lightning Day — as well as retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, Bucs cornerback Rondé Barber, University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, former “Dateline” NBC-TV anchor Stone Phillips, television actor John O’Hurley and former Tampa Bay Devil Rays first baseman Fred McGriff.

Previous celebrities who have played in this popular pro-am include the likes of actors Bill Murray, Michael J. Fox, Mark Wahlberg and NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Murray, one of my all-time favorite actors, was probably who I was hoping to see most, even going so far as to practice clever ways of introducing myself using a catchphrase from “Caddyshack,” one of his biggest hit movies, where Murray played a pot-smoking greenskeeper.

Even without seeing Murray, it was definitely still a great day on the links for an amateur “Cinderella story” like yours truly!

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