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Surprise Penn State Hockey Gift, Augusta National Trip Complete 'Masterful' Week

by on April 13, 2011 11:13 AM

What a week! Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, I’m blessed with another amazing week that included the “Frozen Four” NCAA Hockey Championships in St. Paul, Minn., a practice round at the Masters in Augusta, and a “surprise” gift to the Penn State hockey program from a former teammate. It topped off a “Masterful” week!

One of the many spin-offs to the Pegulas' gift for our new ice arena was the energy and excitement it built among the members of the Icer family.  A record turnout at our alumni weekend of former coaches, players, parents, and boosters led to renewed friendships and a lot of stories that may have been just a little embellished! One of the folks I was fortunate enough to spend some time with was the first coach of the resurrected ice hockey team from 1971, Dr. Larry Hendry. 

Larry invited me and my wife, Heidi, to spend a few days with him and his wife, Wendy, and their family. I used the trip south to get some R&R and to take a day trip to Charlotte to meet with former Icer players Bill Charles, Joe Grainda, Brad Rush, Brent Tranter, and Paul Zodtner. I brought the guys up to speed on the arena plans and discussed ways for them to stay connected and to support the program. Then we went golfing in the beautiful Charlotte weather (82 degrees!).

Coach Hendry is the Gallery Marshall at the 18th hole at Augusta National Golf Course, home of the Masters! Sounds like the best job in the world for a golf fanatic, right? Well, I will tell you that Larry works as hard during that week as he ever has in any job! His duties are critical to the success of the tournament. Delays at the 18th green slow up play for the whole course and make the high-strung TV execs nervous. An errant shot into the gallery can mean injuries and, at a minimum, movement so the player can try to salvage a decent score. Larry supervises the staff along the entire length of the hole. This past Masters was especially difficult because of the higher-than-normal temperatures and humidity. Larry was faced with heat exhaustion not only from the gallery, but from his staff as well. Larry told us later by email:

I have been incommunicado until this afternoon. The tournament was exciting and I hope to get a chance to watch it.  At the same time, it was the most exhausting in 27 years.  The heat and humidity were so bad that we were directed to remove our sports jackets for the second time in history (thank god). I had several of my folks who didn't last the tournament.  None of my guys had heat stroke, but others were not so lucky.  Wendy and Kerry went on Sunday afternoon, but lasted a very short time and went home.

Lauren and Caroline did hit the mother lode of golf balls; they were also seated in the autograph section of the par three with Masters Flags.  They got almost the entire field to sign and actually ran out of room on the flags. They look pretty cool on the ESPN coverage, which was totally accidental.

Will be back in touch when I rejoin the world of the living.

As for my day at the Masters with my wife, it was like a pilgrimage to golf’s mecca. (Check out Joe's photos in the gallery to the right.) TV just doesn’t do Augusta National justice. You can’t see the undulations on the greens and the drastic change in elevation (11-story drop from the clubhouse to Amen Corner) or the twisting fairways and the howling wind. No. 12 looks a lot different in person from how it does on TV. The wind is totally unpredictable, and a player has to worry about danger all around the green. The scene from the hillside is amazing.  You can see the 11th green, all of hole 12, the tee shot and approach shot on the short par 5,  and the 13th hole where Rae’s Creek creeps along the left side and crosses defiantly in front of the green. 

While on the course I ran into Mike Hammond, son of former Smeal College of Business Dean J.D. Hammond, and a few minutes later I ran into my old Icer teammate Greg Warren, who I hadn’t seen since the 25th anniversary of our 1980 championship team. “Tigger” looked like he could still play, and it was great catching up to him.

My favorite part of the day was sitting in the stands between the 15th green and the 16th hole, a par 3 across a pond. During the practice rounds the players are more relaxed and talkative with the crowd. After the golfers hit their real shots, the crowd screams at them: “Skip it; skip it!!” They basically coerce all the golfers into dropping an extra ball just short of the pond, and “skipping” it across so it lands on the green. If your ball doesn’t make it to the green and ends up in the drink, the crowd gives out a collective sigh followed by Bronx cheers! If the ball does make it across, the golfer gets a rousing ovation like someone just hit a home run!  It was a blast!

Our day started with a tour of the practice area, where we saw some of the top players in the world, including Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Tom Watson, and Sergio Garcia. We followed Sergio around to the fifth hole, where former Icer teammate Jim White told us to go get souvenirs since most people didn’t know that the merchandise stand exists! While we saved a bundle on food on the course (chips and pretzels were $1, sandwiches were $2 to $3, and drinks were $1.50), we dropped a bundle on merchandise! You can get Masters apparel only at Augusta National or on its website. We ended the day sitting at the 18th green with Larry’s family and witnessed his granddaughters Lauren and Caroline charming golf balls and autographs from most of the players!

We left Augusta at 5:30 a.m. so I could be back in State College for meetings with our arena architects, and 24 hours later I was on the 6 a.m. flight to St. Paul for the NCAA Division I Championships, better known as the Frozen Four. I will write about that experience in my next column in detail. Suffice it to say it was college hockey at its best. Three close games with end-to-end action and great goal-tending. In the semis, Michigan upset heavily favored North Dakota 2-0 including an empty net goal in the second semi-final, after local favorite Minnesota-Duluth upset Notre Dame 4-3. The national championship went to upstart Minnesota-Duluth in a 3-2 OT thriller over Michigan. Much more to come in my next column!

While I was in St. Paul’s I got a call from my colleague R. J. Gimbl. He asked me if I was sitting down and then told me of an amazing gift from a former teammate of mine for the new hockey endowment. It was from John Davis and his wife, and it was a gift from the heart.

When I called John to thank him for his gift, he talked about what a difference Penn State hockey made in his life. He spoke of the teamwork, the sacrifices, time management, desire, the ability to overcome adversity, and developing confidence and work ethic. He thanked me for being a mentor and a good friend and for recommending that he apply for and become a Lion Ambassador. He spoke about how patiently the Icer family had waited for this moment, and he and his family wanted to be a part of making the transition a successful one. 

John was a success on the ice, in the classroom, as a member of his fraternity, and as a Lion Ambassador. He is a success in the business world and as a husband and a father. He is a Penn Stater through and through, and his gift to the ice-hockey program is a testament to the passion and loyalty that our Icer players and their families have for the program!

That’s a wrap until next time, when I review my trip to the Frozen Four.

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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