NHL legend Wayne Gretzky took a puff of a cigar Saturday as he negotiated the strong headwind on the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course’s unforgiving 14th hole, the famed floating green.
Gretzky – one of 37 players competing in the sixth annual The Showcase celebrity golf fundraiser – squared up at the tee box and proceeded to stick a soft, arching shot that avoided the lake and landed safely onto the island.
Nothing new for the Coeur d’Alene summertime regular, who is widely believed to be the best hockey player of all time.
Seven-time MLB Cy Young winner Roger Clemens exhibited his touch on the greens, ending his day with an impressive 25-foot putt.
Moments later, Clemens was on a nearby stage, singing his rendition of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” in front of dozens of beer-drinking patrons.
It was that kind of party.
Golf, live music, a beer garden, food vendors and yard games helped provide an entertaining atmosphere for an event that’s raised over $13 million for Community Cancer Fund since its 2014 inception.
This year was different, though. There was a true ringer in the mix.
Defending champion and ex-Spokane Chiefs star Ray Whitney – a former NHL veteran – knew he’d have a hard time repeating with first-year Showcase player Mark Mulder in the field.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever seen play here,” Whitney said of Mulder, a former two-time MLB All-Star pitcher for the Oakland A’s. “He’s used to tournament golf, so his nerves aren’t like the rest of ours who don’t play as much has he does.”
Mulder, a scratch golfer, has been a dominant force in some the country’s most prominent celebrity golf tournaments, including three consecutive titles (2015-2017) at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
He finished second last week to former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo at Lake Tahoe, but came up with a convincing win in his first trip to Coeur d’Alene.
Mulder finished at 6 under par at the two-round, 36-hole tournament, beating Whitney (2 over) and two-time winner and former NHL veteran Brenden Morrow (4 over). The three men were put in the same group due to past celebrity golf success.
Mulder, whose wife, Lindsey Mulder, graduated from Gonzaga Prep, said he loved his first weekend of golf in Coeur d’Alene.
“I love it. I love the atmosphere, the lake is amazing, exactly what my wife said it was,” said Mulder, who had a three-stroke lead after Friday’s round. “You can tell that this tournament is only going to get better every year, bring in more celebrities and continue to do great things for (the Community Cancer Fund).”
“And having great celebrity golfers like Mulder is only going to bring in more talented golfers like him to this event,” Whitney said.
And what did Mulder think of the floating green?
“I’ve never played anything like that. I’ve played island greens, but not true island greens,” he said. “And with 25 mph winds in our face, I just needed to hit something that got me on the green, which I three-putted.”
The long list of famous sports figures golfing in front of spectators included ex-NFL stars Marcus Allen, Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk, as well ex-MLB sensations David Justice and Fred McGriff.
Spokane natives Tyler Johnson (the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning) and Adam Morrison (former Gonzaga star and ex-NBA player) were also in the mix.
Others participated in the fundraiser but didn’t golf, including Gonzaga coach Mark Few, Eastern Washington graduate and Fox Sports personality Colin Cowherd and Lewis and Clark graduate and ESPN commentator Neil Everett, who was walking around the 18th green barefoot and chatting it up with players.
Singer-songwriter Kelley James sang onstage near the 18th hole and jokingly ribbed the celebrity golfers in freestyle-lyric form as they attempted to putt, bringing a few laughs to the crowd and participants.
“Seth Joyner, NFL Defensive MVP, that’s pretty legit,” James sang about the former Pro Bowl talent. “Not too bad for an eighth-round pick.”
A private fundraising concert held at night featured country music star Keith Urban. Last year, singer-songwriter Adam Levine was the private event’s headline act.
Actor Kevin Dillon – famously known as Johnny “Drama” Chase in the hit HBO series “Entourage” – returned for the second straight year.
Dillon, 53, didn’t start golfing until his late 20s, even though he’s the son of Paul Dillon, golf coach at NCAA Division I Fordham University.
“I love this part of the world, and I love this golf event,” Dillon said. “Even though I butchered it – I was 7 over (par) after three holes – I felt like a pro out there.”
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