By ADAM PRUIETT
On the green of the 18th hole Sunday at Covered Bridge Golf Club, Fuzzy Zoeller raised his cup high to an appreciative gallery, in essence delivering a final salute to the Wolf Challenge.
Bidding a fond farewell after 16 years of the charity event, the two-time major winner and New Albany native choked up as he concluded a gracious final speech thanking the tournament organizers, volunteers, celebrities and professional golfers, and, of course, family, friends and the fans.
“It’s been 16 tremendous years, with tremendous support by the community from the Kentuckiana area,” Zoeller said just outside the tent where the post-tournament party was taking place. “It takes a lot of people to make these things go. My family is just blessed. It kind of brings tears to my eyes. I say blessed because we know so many great people in such a small area. They’ve all stepped to the plate and given from their hearts.
“You’ve got to turn it off sooner or later. It’s a lot of work, and it’s getting to where it’s taking a lot more time to do these things. It was an appropriate time to do it. The last year here we’re going out with a big bash.”
Prior to the post-tournament festivities, this year’s Wolf Challenge pitted Zoeller against World Golf Hall of Famers Lee Trevino and Nancy Lopez and 1982 Masters winner Craig Stadler. The holes were worth various allotments of money, with Stadler accumulating the most after 18 holes with $42,000, Zoeller next with $33,333, Lopez on his heels at $32,333 and Trevino rounding out the group at $12,333.
“I had a blast,” Stadler said. “I think it’s the third time I’ve played in it, and I’ve had a great time every year. [To win] was cool. It was the last one on the block.”
The collective play from the esteemed veterans was expectedly fantastic, but perhaps secondary to the laughs. Each player wore a live microphone making it an interactive experience for fans, who were tuned in to every word uttered by the distinguished foursome.
Zoeller and Trevino were a veritable comedy duo. Teeing off with over 500 yards ahead of him before reaching the hole, Trevino wondered if he was in striking distance as he grasped his driver.
“If you had about a 40-year flashback, yes, you can get there,” quipped Zoeller.
When Zoeller gazed at the flag on an approach shot, he mentioned he was having a hard time zeroing in on the hole and didn’t know why.
“I do,” Trevino jumped in. “It’s in that white cup you’ve been carrying around.”
Indeed, cocktails, and fun in general, were pervasive at the event. Trevino was both selfdeprecating and educational. Referring to his Hall of Fame induction, he noted, “They put me in there because they didn’t have any Latinos in there.”
And on his advice to young golfers, he doled out this nugget: “If you ever want to be a successful golfer, take that cell phone and break it.”
With a long putt ahead of him and Trevino playfully ribbing him in the background, Zoeller clutched his putter and moaned, “Come on Billy, Billy, Billy, Billy,” a reference to a famous scene in the golf classic “Caddyshack.” And much to the dismay of Trevino, Zoeller buried the putt.
Speaking of burying putts, Stadler sank a 32-footer on the 17th hole.
“Who invited him to the party?” Zoeller asked. “Why don’t you take the tennis shoes off my grandkids’ feet?”
The golfers also had fun with their ages. Zoeller spoke about the challenges of golfing when one walks a lot of miles on courses through the years. Of locating his ball after teeing off, he said, “One, I can’t find it. Or I can’t remember where I hit it.”
While the golf was about the players having fun and entertaining the fans, the purpose of the tournament was to raise money for Fuzzy’s Kids, a charitable organization benefiting children of Indiana and Kentucky. Over its existence, the Wolf Challenge has raised more than $2 million.
“I’ve always felt that I’ve been blessed that my kids were all healthy,” Zoeller said. “I know some people that need help, and that’s why we’re there. These charities need money to make things go. We’re trying to put a smile on a kid’s face and give them an opportunity to live a normal life.”
They sure did put smiles on a lot of kids’ faces on Sunday. The foursome routinely paused to sign autographs. Zoeller was surrounded by a group of kids in the fairway of the 18th hole, scribbling his signature and chatting them up before laying up a few feet away from the flag and sinking his putt to claim the $30,000 hole.
It was a fitting way for the last Wolf Challenge to end. Moments later, grandsons Gunner and Cruz raced up to him for hugs.
“The whole weekend has just been unbelievable,” Zoeller exclaimed.
It may have been the final weekend ever for the Wolf Challenge, but as Stadler noted, don’t expect that Zoeller has bid farewell to all pursuits.
“He’ll find something else to do. Trust me.”