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Graeme McDowell teams with Tom Coughlin Jay Fund to make 'Dreams Come True' at THE PLAYERS

May 11, 2017

By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.- There was a time when Graeme McDowell prayed for great results on the golf course. These days, now as a father, he taps into a Higher Being with hopes for the well-being of his kids. All kids in fact.

Golf is a good 100 yards back in the fairway.

So moved to help improve the lives of kids and families dealing with life-threatening issues, McDowell created the Gmac Foundation to support children's medical research in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  The organization has now extended its reach to the United States including North Florida.

Tom Coughlin, Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars and former head coach, emerged from the ashes of heartache early in his career to embark on a path similar to McDowell’s.

As a sophomore safety at Boston College in 1991, the year Coughlin took over as head coach, Jay McGillis was diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma in November of that year. Because of his fiery and determined work ethic, Coughlin had formed a special bond with McGillis the moment the slower and smaller kid stepped onto the field. The growing bond would be short lived, following McGillis’ death on July 3, 1992, though his memory would become the impetus behind new bonds in the form of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund.

“My wife and I decided that if we were ever in the position to be able to give back, we would do everything in our power to help families dealing with cancer. That’s what we’ve done,” Coughlin said. “Now, we’re in 2017, we’ve delivered over $8 million in New York, New Jersey and Jacksonville. Our work continues because, sadly, the number of kids with cancer increases. But, we pledge to beat it.”

With an end-game the same as McDowell’s, it stands to reason why PGA TOUR and NFL standouts formed a bond of their own. With Foundations of their own, their work and prayers remain focused on illness-stricken kids and their families.

“About a year ago, we had an opportunity to connect with the Gmac Foundation and got to know Graeme,” said Keli Coughlin, Executive Director, Tom Coughlin J Fund. “His restaurant in Ponte Vedra did a great fundraiser to support our work. And, from there, we really formed a strong connection. It became very evident that we could accomplish so much more as a team to help the community.”

“When we brought Nona Blue Tavern here to Ponte Vedra Beach, we wanted to get immersed in the community right away,” said McDowell. “The best way to do that was to pick a nice charity in the area. So, when we found our Coach Coughlin’s ‘Jay Fund’ was based right here in Ponte Vedra, we thought it was a perfect fit. So, we found out what the fund does. The kids are obviously going through some tough times, but just as importantly are the families. After all, it affects parents and siblings as much as the child with the illness. So, I am a big fan of what Couch Coughlin has done. He came down and helped us open the restaurant. So, we developed a relationship right away. He helps me out with my Foundation and I get a chance to meet some of his kids and help out with the ‘Jay Fund.’”

When McDowell opened Nona Blue Tavern in Ponte Vedra in 2016, he chose the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund as the benefitting charity and raised $15,000 opening weekend. In partnering with the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, McDowell now joins THE PLAYERS Championship to connect the charity with the golf community.

As part of the partnership, on Wednesday of this week, McDowell met with two young cancer survivors who received assistance from the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund. Nine-year Tavi and 16-year-old Ryan had the once-in-a-lifetime experience to walk inside the ropes and play the famed 17th and 18th holes with the 2010 U.S. Open champion.

“It was amazing. It was great,” said Ryan Dudley. “I watch golf once to twice a week. I’ve been watching it more and have really been getting into it more. It’s amazing. The people in the community are the ones who get you through it. Without them, it would be really hard.”

Dudley was on his way home from a fishing trip with his father when he began to have a seizure. He was taken to a local hospital, where doctors found a baseball-sized tumor. Rushed to Wolfson’s Children Hospital, within 12 hours, he underwent brain surgery to remove the mass. He recently celebrated his one-year anniversary of the procedure and has been cleared from the doctors to return to normal activity.

Tavi was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January 2010. He underwent chemotherapy and treatment that included eight rounds of radiation to help with the brain fluid. The treatment lasted nearly four years, concluding in May of 2014. He has a love for golf and plays in the North Florida Junior Golf League. 

"This kind of thing puts life in perspective,” McDowell said. “These are incredibly brave and strong people, especially for being so young. So, I think it’s important that we realize how lucky we are to be out here with the jobs we have. I have young kids myself, so I used to pray for good golf. Now, I just pray for the good health of my children. So, you have to be acutely aware that life can change in a second and you have to always be very appreciative.”

“It’s terrific that these three organizations came together to make for such an amazing day for these pediatric oncology survivors,” said Keli Coughlin. “We have an on-going relationship with the PGA TOUR and PLAYERS Championship. They have been a huge supporter of the program since its infancy and have really allowed us to enhance the programs that we provide for families with a child tackling cancer.”

“Golf is such an important sport in that you can play with anyone, at any level, from any walk of life,” said McDowell. “Because of the corporate ties, we get access to Presidents and CEOs and people that can help really make a difference in the world. So, I think that’s why the PGA TOUR leads in charitable giving over any other sport in the world.”

“It’s incredible what the PGA TOUR has accomplished. That is their goal, and they do a tremendous job with charity in every city the touch,” said Tom Coughlin. “We’re just pleased to have a great association with THE PLAYERS Championship. It started with Tim Finchem and continues now with Jay Monahan. We’re just so pleased to have this relationship continue.”

It’s a relationship that efforts to not only lift the spirits of impacted children, but also act as a source of light in a dark time for the entire family, who’s entire foundation gets rocked.

“We provide a lot of financial support to families, so they can really focus on household things, jobs and really not disrupt their daily lives as much as possible,” said Keli Coughlin. “Equally as important are days like this that provide the emotional support. It gives them a break for the day, where they don’t have to worry about appointments, lab tests. They’re out here, having an amazing experience and gaining support from other families walking in the same shoes. We know that it lifts their spirits and also connects them with others.”

From McDowell’s action-backed prayers for the well-being of all kids, to Coughlin’s emphatic pledge to beat cancer, the bond is not only one that provides perspective to what’s most precious in life, but it is also a remarkable asset to prolonging those precious lives and bringing peace to the entire family. 

The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund was started in Jacksonville in 1996. To date, over 4,000 families have been cared for through the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund with more than $8.5 million.

For more information on both Foundations, log on to and

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