As we close in on the most celebrated Holiday of the Season, I want to tell you a story about two of Santa's elves who spend nearly every week of the year doing something for needy kids and their families. Golf annually generates over $3.5 billion for charities across the United States. This is a story about two women who have committed a big part of their lives helping other people through golf.
Amy Wilson has served as the President of the PGA Tour Wives Association (PTWA) for the last five years. Her husband, Mark, won two of the first three PGA Tour events of the 2011 season. Wilson recorded victories in Hawaii and Phoenix. The 5'6, 150lb pound former University of North Carolina golfer went on the win $3.1 million and finished 19th on the 2011 PGA Tour money list.
Jennifer Stallings is enjoying her rookie status with the PTWA. Her husband, Scott, will most likely be the runner-up to Keegan Bradley for the PGA Tour's Rookie-of-the-Year. Stallings won the Greenbrier Classic and finished with $1.9 million in earnings and a 41st place spot on the Tour money list.
The PGA Tour Wives Association is an organization that was founded in 1988 with the mission of rendering support and assistance to needy children and their families through charitable events. During many weekly PGA Tour events, the PTWA will dedicate Wednesday to an initiative that will benefit needy local kids and their families. While their professional golfing husbands are getting ready for the Tour stop, this group of wives is diligently giving back to the local community.
The list of charitable groups that the PTWA has helped is lengthy. PGA Tour wives have raised money and given time to organizations such as First Tee, Walk the Course against Domestic Violence, Shelters for Battered Women and their Children, various Food Banks around the U.S., Shriners Hospitals and a host of others.
Wilson and Stallings will tell you that every PTWA cause is worthwhile and heartwarming. One effort that touches the voice of these two PGA Tour wives is Blessings in a BackPack. Each Friday throughout the year, 6,875 needy children get their backpacks filled with food with courtesy of the PGA Tour Wives Association and a partnering grocery store.
These kids are on school lunch programs and when they go home for the weekends, many of their families don't have food to eat," said Amy Wilson. "Before Blessings in a Backpack many of these kids skipped school on Friday. They showed up on Monday with upset stomachs because they hadn't eaten for several days.
"The schools have seen a huge increase in Friday attendance because the kids know they will get their backpacks filled for the weekend. They show up for school on Monday feeling healthy and ready to go," said Wilson. "The families depend on this and it has been very gratifying."
Blessings in a Backpack take on a special meaning to the Tour Wives for another reason according to Wilson. "Fridays are cut days for Tour players. What happens on Friday for our families dictates whether our husbands play on the weekends, it affects their ability to earn money and things like FedEx Cup points," said Wilson. "Even when we have a bad Friday and miss a cut, there is a lot of satisfaction knowing that kids are getting their backpacks filled that same day because of us."
Jennifer Stallings echoes Wilson's comments. "This year I learned about many organizations that I hadn't been exposed to before such as Blessings in a Backpack. Most, if not all of these kids do not have food at home for them on the weekends. This program provides that.
"Trying to narrow down one thing that has been my favorite that the PTWA has done is really tough. We are involved with organizations dealing with women and children. How do you choose a favorite in that?" asked Stallings. "Being from Tennessee, I've always wanted to be involved with St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Scott and I had the opportunity to tour the hospital last summer. To see kids run through the hospital in little masks and no hair is almost unbearable, but seeing them laugh and play is something totally different."
When you look at a typical Tour week for the players, wives and families it is pretty impressive that this group of wives would find time to help others. Families arrive at the next Tour stop late on Sunday or early Monday. The wives will typically unpack and set things up for the week while the husband plays in the Monday pro-am. Rookies, such as Stallings, are limited in their access during the practice rounds.
Tuesdays are full-fledged practice days. Wednesday will vary with the event, but it serves as a day of rest for many players before the tournament begins on Thursday. That being said, the PTWA devote it to their cause leaving some husbands like Mark Wilson babysitting while Amy does her thing with a PTWA project.
"We show up and want to work. We are not afraid to get dirty. We want to leave that PGA Tour stop knowing we helped somebody," said Wilson. "I could not be as active as I am without Mark's help. He knows this is important to me and he does his part."
One of the biggest challenges that come with marrying a PGA Tour player is the travel. This year Scott and Jennifer Stallings traveled 42 weeks. "This year turned out fantastic for us and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but that's a lot of travel. As a wife you can decide to go on the road and support your husband or you can stay home and deal with things there. Our system is that I travel.
"Supporting your husband can be hard, really hard. It seems like all of the guys are different," said Stallings. "Some want you to motivate them. Others don't want you to say anything. Some want you to stand by them. Others want you to go home. Some want you to analyze their swings while others want you to keep your mouth shut.
"Everyone is different. I think it can be really tough to figure out what works best for you and your spouse. I think that is important in any career and marriage though," concluded Stallings.
It is obvious that the PGA Tour Wives Association is as much a support group for each other as it is a means to help others. "These are my girls because we live the life together," says Wilson.
Make no mistake though, these women are driven to help others and they do it with little fanfare. They are the women behind the men. But, they find the time and make the effort to impact the lives of others who are less fortunate. They are Santa's Elves all year long.