Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011 | 2 a.m.
John Nagel has a great story for his friends back in Columbus, Ohio.
Nagel and his wife, Sara, traveled to Las Vegas this week to attend the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin, arriving Tuesday with a simple plan: watch some professional golf and, more important, get as many autographs as possible.
Armed with a marker and a bag full of memorabilia, John Nagel wasn’t shy in asking for autographs to add to the impressive collection displayed in his home. One of the reasons the Las Vegas tour stop was attractive for the Nagels is because of Wednesday’s celebrity pro-am (featuring the likes of Bo Jackson, Marshall Faulk, George Lopez and Cedric the Entertainer) before the Thursday-Sunday professional tournament.
John Nagel easily secured one of the most sought after autographs — twice. During Tuesday’s practice time on the driving range and putting greens, when the crowd was just a handful of fans, he twice got tournament host Justin Timberlake’s autograph. One is signed on a golf ball, the other on a hole flag with numerous other signatures.
Nagel was confident in his approach, calling the famous entertainer by his moniker “JT” and being rewarded a memory of a lifetime. Timberlake signs his name “Justin.”
“It’s the celebrities. It’s cool to come out and watch the people you watch on TV, people you adore, the musicians and actors and stuff,” John Nagel said. “It is also nice to rub elbows with the pro golfers. Wish I could have that job. It’s the best job in the world.”
The week of events is more than the tournament, which makes the annual celebration of golf in Southern Nevada attractive to more than those in the area’s small but loyal golf community. Off-the-course activities are highlighted by Saturday’s Justin Timberlake and Friends Concert, which raises roughly $1 million for the Shriners Hospitals. This year, Timberlake and nine other groups or artists — Earth Wind & Fire, the Commodores, Charlie Wilson, Color Me Badd, Sugar Hill Gang, Sister Sledge, Vanilla Ice, Turbo B and Wayne Brady — are scheduled to perform at Planet Hollywood.
“Every year when we come back, you get to see a little bit of the benefits of the Shriners’ hard work,” Timberlake said. “And, you know, that is the reason I’m here, first and foremost.”
Local families have reaped the benefits of the free care of Shriners Hospitals, with those children serving as ambassadors each year for the tournament.
Former Green Valley High football player LaQuan Phillips, who was temporarily paralyzed after being injured during a football game in September 2008, did most of his rehabilitation at a Shriners Hospital in the Sacramento area. Phillips might never return to full strength, but he is able to walk and attend college — partially because of care at Shriners.
“Seeing some of the work the Shriners have done over the years, it’s just really mind-blowing, and such a worthy cause,” Timberlake said. “It makes you proud to be a part of what we’re doing out here.”
The Shriners aren’t the only group to benefit financially from the event. Organizers wanted to make sure some of the profits stay in Las Vegas, setting up a ticket sales plan with local charities that sold tickets as a fundraiser.
“Beyond the global awareness the Shriners Hospitals for Children receives, the true local winners are the nearly 60 charities that participate in the Tickets Fore Charity program, the more than two dozen schools that raise funds through our program,” said Adam Sperling, the tournament director, in a statement.
The tournament is part of the Fall Series and frequently not played in by the sport’s top performers. Rather, its field is dominated by golfers scrambling in the final three tournaments of the year to finish in the top 125 of the money list to retain full playing privileges the following year.
“The whole fall finish is about the story of guys trying to keep their job and trying to play well, finish the year off well, like I did last year to keep my job,” said Jonathan Byrd, the tournament’s defending champion.
Last year, the tournament made for some great drama in arguably the best finish of the season. Byrd, despite darkness setting in, recorded an ace on the fourth playoff hole for the win in becoming the first golfer in tour history to secure a tournament title with a hole-in-one on the final shot.
While such a feat is something he’s frequently asked about and always willing to rehash, it often overshadows how the 33-year-old Byrd played tremendous golf to stay in tournament contention. On the last holes of the final round and in the three sudden-death holes before the ace, Byrd played some of his best golf. It’s given him confidence, which is something the Las Vegas tournament seemingly always does for the up-and-coming golfers who shine here.
“Obviously last year was a very, I’d say, magical finish to the tournament for me,” said Byrd, who is currently No. 30 on the money list. “A lot of emotions going into that week, but you know, just to get in a playoff in a PGA Tour was a great achievement, and then to stay in the playoff for four holes was exciting, I think, for everyone, and then a hole‑in‑one on 17, the hardest hole on the golf course.
“It was definitely the best shot I hit all year,” he continued. “And to go in the hole, it was a shock; it was exciting. It was fun for everybody, and very memorable.”
Even though the tournament lacks big-name stars, it’s loaded with golfers with ties to the area. Five from UNLV’s nationally respected program will play, including Charley Hoffman, Bill Lunde, Chad Campbell, Andres Gonzalez and Chris Riley. Lunde and Hoffman were on the Rebels’ 1998 national title team; Riley was a four-time All-American and one of the program’s top all-time players, and Campbell has enjoyed success as a professional with four tour victories and a second-place finish in 2009 at the Masters.
Lunde, who has played at TPC Summerlin since he was at UNLV in the mid-1990s, considers the tournament a home match — something rare in professional golf.
“It means a lot for all of us local guys, especially guys who went to UNLV, to play well this week and take advantage of all the experience we have out here,” he said.