Five former Gamecocks playing in Monday After the Masters

The (Myrtle Beach) Sun NewsMarch 13, 2014 

Marcus Lattimore

RENEE ITTNER-MCMANUS — rittnermcmanus@thestate.com

— Five former South Carolina Gamecock football players are scheduled to play in the Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am.

Competing are retired Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, quarterback Connor Shaw, San Francisco 49ers running back Marcus Lattimore, Atlanta Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco and retired wide receiver Sterling Sharpe. Shaw, Lattimore and DiMarco are all first-time commitments.

NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, golf legend Nancy Lopez, PGA Tour pros Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson and John Daly, and sports hall of famers Marcus Allen and Rick Barry have also committed to participate in the event.

Though few people knew those athletes would be participating when they purchased playing spots, sponsorships or spectator tickets for the April 14 event at the Dye Club at Barefoot Resort, it is already sold out.

It's a testament to the tournament's staying power and popularity in its 20th year -- 12th year on the Grand Strand at the Dye Club -- that it has sold out more than a month in advance of the event and before most of the participating pro golfers and celebrities were known.

"The demand has been very high," tournament director Paul Graham said. "We kind of determine our numbers and we're pretty much done selling anything right now.

"I'm really happy the band has been able to have this kind of success with this event, and there are a lot of people who benefit from it."

VIP sponsor packages, playing spots at 34 foursomes at a minimum of $5,000 per player, and approximately 6,000 spectator tickets are sold out.

The approximate 2,000 general admission tickets that aren't tied into sponsor packages sold out less than 24 hours after their release in late February.

The MAM event includes VIP and participant parties the two nights before the event and a post-tournament concert at the House of Blues. Participation and attendance are limited to ensure a quality experience.

"I don't want the capacity at House of Blues, I want it to be comfortable for our people," Graham said.

"We try to make it as fun and interesting as possible so people will want to come back every year. People have been amazingly generous over the past 20 years."

Hamlin, who has won 15 Sprint Cup races in four-plus years, is making his first appearance and will be joined by fellow NASCAR driver and team owner Michael Waltrip.

Johnson is expected to bring future father-in-law and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and Gretzky's wife, actress/model Janet Gretzky, to participate.

Furyk will likely have popular caddie Fluff Cowan in tow.

In addition to tour stars Daly, Furyk and Johnson, other PGA Tour winners who have committed to play include Lee Elder, Tommy Gainey, Ken Duke, Billy Horschel, Brian Gay, Woody Austin, Scott Brown, Robert Gamez, Chris DiMarco, Jay Don Blake and Matt Bettencourt. Golf Channel personality and former PGA Tour player Charlie Rymer has committed to participate, as well as touring pros Kyle Thompson, Luke Guthrie, Kevin Kisner, Jason Kokrak and Mark Silvers.

"If you look at the top five names, any PGA Tour event would be happy to have these guys in their tournament," Graham said. "We're incredibly pleased these guys recognize what we're doing."

The tournament raises money for educational and junior golf causes in South Carolina through the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation and South Carolina Junior Golf Foundation, and Graham said it raised $365,000 last year.

Second-year LPGA Tour pro Austin Ernst of Seneca will participate for the first time. She won the NCAA Championship as a freshman at Louisiana State and finished 72nd on the LPGA Tour money list in 2013 as a rookie.

LPGA Tour pro Kristy McPherson of Conway will not participate after a few consecutive years of appearances because she plans to be in Hawaii for that week's LPGA event, which begins on Wednesday rather than the more traditional Thursday or Friday.

Barry is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Allen is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and commitment Grant Fuhr and Gretzky are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Allen is making a return to the tournament after several years and is being joined by fellow retired football players Jim McMahon, Jimbo Covert and Mike Quick.

Mike Golic will play following his four-hour live broadcast of the Mike & Mike in the Morning Show on ESPN Radio and ESPN2 from the back of the first tee box.

"The cool thing is there's a ton of work that goes into the tournament, but not a lot of effort and strain to get these [celebrity participants] to come," Graham said. "It's a testament to the band and the relationships they've developed."

Musicians making their tournament debuts to bolster the lineup for the post-tournament concert at the House of Blues are blues guitarist Johnny Lang, Megadeth drummer Shawn Drover and Styx bassist Ricky Phillips. They join the Hootie & the Blowfish members including frontman Darius Rucker, as well as musicians Steve Azar, Javier Colon, Branford Marsalis and Edwin McCain.

Other participating celebrities and pro golfers will likely be named over the next month.

"The [Hootie] guys love the event and they want nothing more than to continue doing it as long as they possibly can," Graham said. "I'm pleasantly surprised the tournament as a whole has been able to last 20 years when a lot of tournaments go away.

"But when you dig into it, I know all the people who are involved and are part of it, and all those people make it an unbelievable event."

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