Brett Favre visits Wisconsin PGA Tour Champions event
Rumor has it there was a golf tournament going on at University Ridge on Saturday.
A good one, too, with low scores, a crowded leaderboard and even a hole-in-one.
Late in Saturday's second round, however, the inaugural American Family Insurance Championship was temporarily overshadowed. Despite stunningly large galleries for the second straight day, the leaders in the PGA Tour Champions event had to take a backseat during their stretch run.
Sorry, fellas, but this is Wisconsin and what true-blue Wisconsin sports fan could resist watching Brett Favre toss a football to Steve Stricker on the 17th hole? Even if Stricker, the tournament host, couldn't haul in the pass?
"It was off my fingertips," Stricker said with a laugh after he and Favre lost to Andy North and Mark Tauscher in a nine-hole celebrity scramble that followed the tournament leaders off the 10th tee and drew crowds in the thousands on every hole.
Favre, the Green Bay Packers legend who will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in six weeks, saw the play through a quarterback's eyes, of course.
"Perfect pass," he said. "Even Andy knows it was a perfect pass. Steve's got a really smooth golf swing, but his route-running is a little questionable."
It was all in good fun, of course. And all for charity.
Everyone enjoyed the good-natured banter that started on the practice tee and continued through the four-man news conference after the round, most of it instigated by North, who claimed he and Tauscher were the Washington Generals while Stricker and Favre were the Harlem Globetrotters. Favre, who once played to a 1 or 2 handicap, stopped playing golf seriously eight years ago and these days spends his time following his 16-year-old daughter, Breleigh, around to volleyball tournaments. His, um, erratic play opened the door for Tauscher and North.
But the real winner was the tournament, which has raised eyes throughout the golf world by drawing crowds equal to some events on the regular PGA Tour. Tournament officials estimated Saturday's crowd at 20,000-plus, an increase of 5,000 over Friday.
"Look at this crowd, just an amazing crowd," Favre said. "I'm not surprised a bit. This will be the most successful stop for the senior tour, I can promise you that."
If the senior players were miffed in any way that four Wisconsin sports legends -- two from football, two from golf -- had temporarily stolen their thunder, there was no evidence of it. Just the opposite, in fact. They are thrilled with the crowds this week and were more than willing to lend the fans to the celebrities for a couple of hours.
"It feels more like a Tour event than a Champions event," said Kenny Perry, a former winner of the defunct Greater Milwaukee Open/U.S. Bank Championship. "The gallery is unreal. I loved the GMO. That was one of my favorite places I've ever played. I've had a lot of people support me. They call me 'GMO Champ' and stuff like that, so they remember me, which is pretty special."
Perry, you will recall, was critical of the Champions tour earlier this year, famously calling it a freak show. Putting a celebrity foursome out on the heels of the leaders might fall under than umbrella in some people's minds, but not this week, not at this venue, not in this tournament.
"Stricker's my buddy," Perry said. "They love him around here. This is his home. And to bring Brett Favre out here, that's cool. If I was a spectator, I would be watching that. I wouldn't be watching the golf."
Actually, the hotly competitive tournament and Favre's return to Wisconsin (for his next visit, he wants to attend the University of Wisconsin-LSU game at Lambeau Field) combined to generate the crowds and atmosphere they're looking for at every Champions Tour stop. And the excitement Stricker and North envisioned for a tournament in their hometown.
"I think Steve and I talked about how this was going to be a successful event because of Brett and Tausch being here," North said. "There have been a couple other tournaments that have been able to do this, really growing their event because of it."
Viewed from that perspective, the celebrity event contributed to what is turning into a special weekend for players, too.
"They want crowds like this," Stricker said. "They understand that there's going to be more people following Brett Favre and Tauscher and they understand that it just adds another element. It just brings more attention to the game we've got going here this week and they're totally fine with it."
Fine with it? Other than surprise leader Jean-Francois Remesy, they thoroughly enjoyed having Favre in the house.
Asked what he knows about Favre, Remesy, a Frenchman, replied, "What is that?" The other competitors needed no such introduction.
"There are a lot of guys getting Brett's autograph in the lunchroom, too," North said.
With Favre back in Mississippi, the attention will shift back to the players today. There are 19 within 5 shots of the lead and with the Ridge continuing to surrender birdies, it should be a free-for-all. This time, the players will have the course all to themselves.
This article was written by Tom Oates from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.