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On the tee: Celebrities take part in pro-am at Regions Tradition for special cause

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HOOVER – Stepping onto the first tee at the Regions Tradition Celebrity Pro-Am on Wednesday morning, May 5, Alabama Crimson Tide head football coach Nick Saban pulled a ball out of his pocket with the signature Alabama ‘A’ logo and handed it to a girl named Logan whose jaw dropped.

Logan, a patient at Children’s of Alabama who was in a wheelchair on the first tee, turned to her right and said ‘Whoa, a red A,’ before being mesmerized by the ball from one of the best college football coaches in history.

That was one of many memorable moments on the tee box during the pro-am on Wednesday, as celebrities such as Charles Barkley, Bryan Harsin, Nate Oats, Bo Jackson, Kirby Smart, Taylor Hicks, Greg Sankey, Tommy Tuberville and many others joined PGA Tour Champions professionals for the day.

Each group greeted a different patient at Children’s of Alabama on the first tee in front of a big backdrop of the hospital before then teeing off for 18 holes at Greystone Golf and Country Club to kick off a special week of raising money for charities in the Birmingham area.

It led to several special moments, including one with Barkley, who interacted with one of the kids on the tee. The night before, the kid’s dad showed him highlights of Barkley playing in the NBA.

The dad mentioned that to Barkley, which led to him shouting the son’s name to call him over.

Hesitant at first, the patient ambassador from Children’s of Alabama then ran over.

“You watched my highlights last night?” Barkley asked with a laugh, joking about the kid not knowing who he was because of his age.

They shared a laugh and a conversation, creating a lasting memory for each.

“I’m really honored to be here. This is really great for Birmingham. Shout out to Greystone, I’m really excited to have some fun today,” Barkley said before his round.

Known for an awkward swing at times with a yip in his downswing, he then teed up his ball on the opening hole and blasted a shot down the fairway with no pause in his swing.

The moment sent Jackson, who was one of his playing partners, into a frenzy of amazement, before giving him a hug of congratulations and saying through a laugh, “I’m shaken by how good that was.”

“I’m playing great right now. I’m going to play great today. I’m looking forward to the day. I got a new teacher, Stan Utley, I’ve been working with him the last couple of years. I’m almost back down to a single-digit handicap,” Barkley said with a smile. “I’m playing great and looking forward to the day.”

That kicked off a day full of laughs and fun on the course for fans, the Children’s of Alabama ambassadors, the celebrities, the professionals and more.

Alabama was represented heavily by Oats and Saban fresh off historic seasons, as Oats led the basketball team to the Sweet 16 and Saban led the football team to a sixth National Championship in the last 12 years.

While both are experts in their respective sports, their golf games are completely different.

“I hadn’t ever played golf before last summer, until COVID. I figured if I was going to learn, that was the time,” Oats said. “When I got the job at Alabama, they asked me if I golfed and I said, ‘No, I don’t even own a set of clubs.’ So they got me a set of clubs and I used them twice the first summer and I was terrible. Then COVID hit, I spent a bunch of time at the lake and that gold old before I was invited out to Shoal Creek. I holed out from 90 yards and thought I might have figured everything out, but I didn’t figure anything out.”

He then joked that he was nowhere near as talented as Saban on the course.

“He would destroy me,” Oats said of Saban. “I’m just waiting for him to invite me to his noon basketball league, that’s where I feel like I have a better shot at him.”

Oats took lessons in preparation for the event, knowing people would be lined down his right side and didn’t want to “take somebody out.”

Saban then took a playoff jab at him, while also talking about how difficult the game is and how much time it takes to become decent at it.

“I don’t think he really played much golf before he got here,” Saban said. “This is not just a game you can just go play because you played baseball or basketball or something else. It looks easy, but it’s not.”

Harsin, the new Auburn head football coach, also participated in the event, playing alongside Barkley and Jackson.

He said he doesn’t play much golf but that he loves the sport before joking that he doesn’t even know what clubs he uses.

“I don’t want my football coach to have a great swing,” Barkley said with a smirk. “I don’t want my financial adviser or football coach to have a great swing. That’s not a recipe for success. I’m a big coach Harsin fan. I think what he did takes tremendous courage and I’m really, really excited. To leave the confines of Boise where you can probably win eight games a year and live happily ever after, to come down to Alabama and take on King Kong, that takes tremendous courage and belief in yourself. I’m really excited for him.”

That group of Auburn Tigers as well as other local and national celebrities and sports stars including Saban, Oats, Smart, Hicks, Ryan Brown from WJOX, Sankey, John Parker Wilson, Bubba Bussey from the Rick and Bubba show and others all interacted with fans to create a memorable day on the course.

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