Soon after fans watched the American flag unfurled upon TPC Sawgrass’ iconic island green and the Florida Air National Guard roar through the sky, General Ray Odierno reminded the crowd surrounding the 17th hole just how lucky they are to be Americans.
“There is nothing like this great country,” said Odierno, who served as the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army. “We’re here today to honor those who are willing to sacrifice anything to protect what this country stands for: delivering freedom and liberty to its people.”
Odierno was one of the speakers at the May 9 ceremony that capped off THE PLAYERS Championship’s ninth annual Military Appreciation Day, which also featured a concert from Grammy Award-nominated country artist Sam Hunt. Representatives from all branches of the military attended the event, with several marching into place at the beginning of the ceremony as “God Bless America” reverberated across the golf course. NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks, who has broadcast THE PLAYERS Championship the past 10 years, emceed the evening.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan thanked the tournament’s sponsors, partners and volunteers, and also recognized the military members and veterans who he said are central to the PGA Tour’s mission.
“There’s no better way for us to come together than to be here on the 17th hole, with this spectacular weather, to honor our men and women in uniform,” he said. Monahan succeeded former Commissioner Tim Finchem in January.
Odierno asked fans to remember those deployed in harm’s way and their families, as they enjoy the competition and amenities of the tournament. The general, who retired from the Army in 2015 after more than 40 years of service, also extended his gratitude to the PGA Tour for supporting and recognizing the military.
Per the annual tradition of including a PGA Tour player in the ceremony, Northern Ireland native and 2010 U.S. Open Champion Graeme McDowell told the crowd you don’t need to be born in the United States to appreciate the prowess of its military.
McDowell concluded the ceremony by recognizing Sergeant Thomas Allen, a Clearwater native and Purple Heart recipient who was medically discharged from the Army after injuring his head, neck and back in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. McDowell surprised Allen by announcing that he’d be receiving $5,000 toward child care expenses, a $2,000 gift card to Rooms To Go and most significantly, a paid off mortgage, thanks to THE PLAYERS Championship, . A speechless Allen said it was the biggest honor of his life to serve in the Army.
Following the ceremony, Sam Hunt played an hour of his hits, including his latest single “Body Like a Backroad,” as well as older songs “Leave the Night On,” “Take Your Time” and “House Party.” Hunt also performed a few country covers, including Thomas Rhett’s “T-Shirt” and Dierks Bentley’s “Somewhere on a Beach.” The country artist received a roar of applause and cheers when he recognized the military throughout the show.
“We’re going to celebrate our American freedom!” exclaimed Hunt, as the red, white and blue seen around the 17th hole shined amid the setting sun.