News and Tribune

July 17, 2013

DODD: Wolf challenge makes going pro easier

By LINDON DODD
Local columnist

“You all think I am out here for my score. I’m not.”- Fuzzy Zoeller

 

In 1987 Fuzzy Zoeller was playing in a PGA TOUR event at Walt Disney World when he was told about two young boys attending the tournament who had just lost their mother, a cancer victim. He was simply asked for an autograph. However, he took the gesture much further by inviting the boys, Geoff and Josh Lewis, who were 10 and 11 years old at the time, to accompany him during the Sunday round. He shot a 64 on that day. They made a lifelong friend.

The Lewis family eventually started the Lewis Family Cancer Fund and an annual event called Swing for the Cure in Winter Haven, Fla. Zoeller still plays in the benefit free of charge to help the Lewises raise money to fight cancer in their mother’s memory.

I met with Bob Iezzi at Fuzzy Productions this week to discuss to another charitable venture that has been a passion for Zoeller. The Wolf Challenge is returning to Covered Bridge Golf Club in Sellersburg after a two-year run in Indianapolis. This will be the last Wolf Challenge.

Several factors entered into the decision to end the once annual local event. Zoeller is a very busy man with a multiplicity of business interests. Among them of course are 11 stops on the senior PGA Champions Tour. Even that schedule has been abbreviated down from 20 during past seasons. 

One of the more time consuming business pursuits now involves Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka. As an offshoot of the success of the venture he and a friend from Indianapolis started they sponsor an IZOD IndyCar series racecar featuring driver Ed Carpenter. Zoeller now hosts events on the IndyCar circuit.  

Iezzi also told me that it is increasingly difficult to schedule professional golfers and big name celebrities in part due to the number of charitable events of this type that have been held in recent years. “It seems like every celebrity is hosting an event for their own charity.”

Fuzzy has managed to schedule some very big names for the Wolf Challenge event itself to be held Aug. 11. The foursome that day will include LPGA legend Nancy Lopez, PGA icon Lee Trevino, television star and comedian George Lopez, and Fuzzy. Saturday’s line-up of celebrities and Champions Tour professionals should be finalized this weekend. That Celebrity/Pro-Am tournament will be open to the public as well and played Aug. 10.

Bob and Fuzzy’s assistant, Michelle Landis, are very busy organizing the volunteer portion of the Wolf Challenge. Landis credits her current position as to having its genesis when she was a 16-year-old volunteer for an earlier Wolf Challenge. “That’s why I love golf so much,” she said.

As in recent years volunteers will pay $40 each. For that fee volunteers receive a shirt with a retail value well over $40, a hat, a meal, and a free round of golf at either Champion’s Pointe or Covered Bridge. And there is the chance to be inside the ropes to mix and mingle with the big name participants and see the action close up. Iezzi wanted to stress, “This event would not be possible without the hard work of the volunteers.”

There are also corporate sponsors being sought. Iezzi explained that this event is not like a PGA event which is scheduled by one large national corporate sponsor. However, they do invite local corporations to have sponsorships which will include attendance to the Friday night gala/auction where the teams are announced and passes to the weekend events among other amenities. Donations of charity items are also encouraged.

Fuzzy is offering a special admission price this year for those wishing to attend as spectators. A $30 ticket will allow entry to both the Aug. 10 Celebrity/Pro-Am tournament and the Aug. 11 Wolf Challenge. For ticket, sponsor, or volunteer information you can contact Michelle Landis at michelle@fuz.com or call 812-246-8200. You can also visit the website at wolf challenge.com

Fuzzy started this event as a way to utilize his love for golf to give back to local charities, especially children’s charities. It is also a way for him to give something special back to his hometown community.

I do not personally know Fuzzy Zoeller, but I feel like I do. The real trademark of his entire PGA career was just that. It’s a given he is a great golfer. His career accomplishments, including two major championship titles, are a testament to that. However, there were many golfers who won more money and were more dominate on the pro tour.

I have no doubt how competitive he was, but he had another layer. He could play the game at the very highest level yet seem to convey it was never a life-or-death, must-win win scenario. His special gift was to be able to break down that invisible barrier between participant and spectator. You felt as if somehow you were invited into a forbidden world. While Fuzzy probably wasn’t the first to accomplish it, he very well might have perfected it. And it has made him a beloved sports figure.

This is also the magic of the Wolf Challenge. It’s how Fuzzy gets other pro golfers and celebrities to draw you in as a spectator. What ostensibly is a golf match requires nobody to have to be a golf fan to enjoy the event and be thoroughly entertained. The Challenge is as unique an event as we will ever get to experience in Southern Indiana. The reason is very straightforward: The Wolf Challenge allows regular hackers into Fuzzy’s world, if but for an afternoon.

It’s a very family friendly event.  This will be your last chance to experience something that truly has been a special thing for us to have enjoyed in Southern Indiana for many years.

–Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com.