Inspiring Athletes

For the next few days, I’ll be reporting from Fort Worth, Texas at the PGA’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. I’ll have a report from the golf course later today, but first, let’s review some inspiring sports stories from the past week:

K.J. Choi scores historic victory for Asia

PGA golfer K.J. Choi defeated David Toms in a one-hole playoff at The PLAYERS Championship at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL on Sunday. It was Choi’s eighth tour victory (18th if you include his international wins) but marked the first time an Asian player had won the event. In multiple interviews, Choi, born in South Korea but a resident of Houston, Texas, referenced his Christian faith and talked about how he prayed and sang throughout the final round to calm his nerves.

Choi made news in 2005 when he won the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro and tithed 10 percent of his winnings ($90,000) to the Korean Presbyterian Church in Greensboro where he attends every year during that event. No word yet as to where Choi might be making his next significant donation. In case your wondering, he earned $1.7 million with this latest title.

Click here to read a great Q&A with Choi after his PLAYERS Championship victory.

PGA golfer Jason Dufner shoots birdies (and eagles) for tornado victims

Every time Jason Dufner makes a birdie or an eagle on the golf course, he won’t just be lowering his score. He’ll be simultaneously raising money for Alabama’s tornado victims. Dufner, a 2000-graduate of the Auburn University, has pledged to donate $100 for every birdie and $500 for every eagle he makes from now until the Tour Championship in September.

Dufner created a program called “Birdies for ‘Bama” and launched it this past weekend at the PLAYERS Championship in Ponta Verde, Fla. Apparently the initiative boosted Dufner’s confidence who finished tied for sixth and racked up 16 birdies and one eagle. For those scoring at home, that’s $2,100 Dufner will be donating to the cause in the first of many tournaments to come.

“For the past 16 years, I’ve been proud to call Alabama home, and it was heartbreaking to see the damage and hardship for so many people there with the recent tornadoes,” Dufner told reporters earlier in the week. “I wanted to do something to show the people there that I’m thinking of them, but also to help the communities rebuild and put this disaster behind them.”

Amazingly, Dufner caught some grief from Tigers fans who reacted a little less than positively on various message boards since the tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa, home of bitter rivals at the University of Alabama. When asked about it, Dufner simply said, “some things are bigger than football.”

Click here to get Twitter updates on “Birdies for ‘Bama”

Memphis Grizzlies inspire flood weary city

It might have seemed like horrible timing. The Memphis Grizzlies were right in the middle of an NBA playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder when the Mississippi River rose to its highest level in 70 years and threatened homes, business and historical sites. But the team’s improbable run as the Western Conference’s #8-seed (having knocked off top-seeded San Antonio) turned out to be a welcome distraction from the city’s anxiety and uncertainty.

Grizzlies players, coaches and management have subsequently taken a supporting role in relief efforts. Head coach Lionel Hollins taped a PSA asking for donations to assist flood victims and the giving spirit continued at the following home playoff games at the FedEx Center where the Red Cross spearheaded more fundraising efforts. The Grizzlies also arranged watch parties at three area shelters complete with barbecue dinners.

Even though Memphis lost in an exciting seven-game series against Oklahoma City (a series that included a historic triple-overtime game), the team still gave its host city something to cheer about amid an anxious and stressed environment. Kudos to the Grizzlies for making believers out of us all.

Join Inspiring Athletes tomorrow for the first installment of “Hot Topic Tuesday” where we’ll ask the question, “Does character matter?”

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