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Rollins in Richmond

Prior to his tournament, John Rollins took time to visit with some of the participants of U-Turn, one of the benefiting charities of his Richmond-area tournament.

June 28, 2010

By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff

MIDLOTHIAN, Va.—It’s early Monday morning, and within just a few feet of an eight-foot statue of Thomas Jefferson, John Rollins is sitting with fellow PGA TOUR players Chris Stroud and Gary Woodland. Chad Campbell is nearby, at the next table. The golfers are in the lobby of the historic Jefferson Hotel thumbing through copies of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and USA Today and chatting away. They all know it’s a boiler in Virginia, with highs reaching 102 the day before and expected to “cool” down to a mere 99 as the new week gets underway.

The searing heat outside explains the shorts the quartet of golfers are wearing. On Mondays, PGA TOUR players don’t have a dress code. And when the mercury is approaching triple digits, shorts are a wise alternative. Even Jefferson seemingly agrees, as the Sage of Monticello, standing sentinel in marble, is wearing knee pants.

Call it Colonial Casual.

Before long, the four golfers and six other TOUR players are boarding a Jefferson Hotel shuttle van on their way to Salisbury Country Club for the Shaka Smart-John Rollins Charity Golf Classic. Smart, who just completed his first year as Virginia Commonwealth’s head basketball coach, has asked many of his friends from the hoops community to come and play to help raise money for the Ram athletic department. Rollins, meanwhile, has prevailed on his pals to fund-raise for his foundation. Other TOUR players in attendance are Daniel Chopra, Jonathan Byrd, Ryan Palmer, Brian Davis and Omar Uresti. From the basketball side is University of Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, who early in his career was a VCU assistant coach, and former Virginia great Bryant Stith.

Smith and Stith, happy to be with . . . former Virginia coach Pete Gillen, Hubert Davis, who played collegiately at North Carolina, and NASCAR’s Kerry Earnhardt and Kyle Petty and the Sadler Brothers, Hermie and Elliott.

Rollins, a VCU alum, and Smart have designed this as an enjoyable day, with the proceeds also earmarked for the Hermie and Elliott Sadler Foundation, dedicated to raising awareness and promoting research for a cure to autism.

“This day is a lot of fun,” said Rollins, a Richmond native who is making it a habit of coming back to his hometown for a little annual charity work. “It’s fun to be relaxed and laughing, having that not-really-caring-about-how-we-play attitude. I’ll sign some autographs, shake some hands and just enjoy the day and make sure my group has fun.”

It didn’t take long for the fun to begin, with a couple hundred spectators gathered for a clinic, with former PGA TOUR winner and Richmond resident Robert Wrenn serving as the emcee.

The players are warming up on the driving range, which sits on property that was previously an 18th century hunting lodge where Patrick Henry—yes, that Patrick Henry—did a little bit of shooting. As the story goes, during the Revolutionary War, the Redcoats seized the hunting property until Jefferson negotiated the release of the property, allowing its return to the original owner.

That Jefferson guy sure did get around.

As does Rollins today. The 1997 VCU graduate worked the crowd, visited with fans and talked about the importance of his foundation as it relates to kids.

“I saw a few of these events as a kid. They always looked like a lot of fun, and I remember thinking, It would be neat to do something like this someday,” Rollins said.  “I wanted to have an event that would really help a community that’s been supportive of me over the years.”

That’s why the John Rollins Foundation has teamed with U-Turn, a Richmond organization committed to helping young people “transform their lives through athletic training and sound Bible guidance.”

“U-Turn is a sports-based, faith-based organization that helps underprivileged kids,” Rollins added. “That’s my main focus is to help kids.”

A group of young, red-shirted U-Turn participants have turned out to get a glimpse of what professional golfers can do with a golf ball.

“These kids are what it’s all about,” said Avi Hopkins, director of U-Turn. “What John is doing for us gives us more opportunities to serve these kids and create more programming for them.”

“John’s from the Richmond area, and he’s a hero here. He has the advantage of using his name to help kids out at various benefits and charities all throughout the country,” said Chopra. “He can pull some of us in. It’s a fun thing to be here, a real treat.”

The participation of Rollins’ TOUR friends is not lost on the three-time TOUR winner, his most-recent victory coming a year ago at the Reno-Tahoe Open. Rollins’ friendship with these players explains why earlier this season he played in Crane’s charity golf tournament. He’s signed up to play in Palmer’s tournament later this year.

“Just for these guys to share their time by coming means a lot,” said Rollins. “It’s a busy season for us, and it’s nice that they can share a few hours of their busy schedules to help out and support me and my cause, which is to help kids, to help them with their education. Whether it’s getting books to them or giving them the access to get in school or to just do things like they’re doing with U-Turn, it’s so important for kids to have opportunities.”

“We see all kids at risk in today’s society,” Hopkins continued. “What we try to do is create good fundamentals in terms of character, integrity, honesty and work ethic. Hopefully, whether they become great athletes or not, they will be champions in life.”

Rollins, standing nearby, nods his head in approval.

For a minute, Hopkins sounded a bit like another Virginian, the one who said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”

That guy in the knee pants sure knew what he was talking about.


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