Golfer to give Union $500 per 'birdie'

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Professional golfer Shaun Micheel says he will donate money to Union University as it recovers from the Feb. 5 tornado that caused about $40 million in damage to residence life complexes and academic buildings at the Jackson, Tenn., campus.

Micheel said he would donate $500 to Union for every "birdie" he makes in the Feb. 14-17 Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and is trying to get businesses to do the same.

"This is something I wanted to do to help out the college students up there," Micheel said.

Union took a direct hit from an EF-4 tornado that heavily damaged the campus, forcing the university to suspend classes for two weeks.

Although Micheel has no prior connection to Union, a tornado touched down three miles from his house on Feb. 5, and Micheel spent that night with his family in Memphis waiting out the same storm system that hit Union.

Micheel also said he was able to empathize with students' situations because he and his wife remembered their experiences as college students.

"There's a lot of things that [Union students] are facing that most people don't really think about," he said. Students lost many of their possessions in the tornado, including clothing, bedding, money, food, textbooks and personal items such as mementos, pictures and jewelry.

Micheel said he recognized the impact the tornados had with a May graduation rapidly approaching and simply wants to help. Union classes will begin again Feb. 20, with graduation scheduled for May 17.

Disaster relief funds have been set up for Union, but Micheel said he wanted to be able to donate money in a more specific way.

Micheel said he used his media and business contacts to start the ball rolling on his plans for the upcoming tournament. He acknowledged that "it's not always easy to throw these things together at the last minute.

"I went to my bank in Memphis and asked them if they would be generous enough to let me open up an account to allow people to make deposits. That's how it all started, then I started getting phone calls from all sorts of people."

Micheel said he hopes the national press coverage of the PGA tour will help encourage businesses to "jump on board." He has been contacting business owners in the Memphis area to match his donations with their own.

In 2003, Micheel placed first in the PGA Championship.

A representative from the PGA Tour's communications department said the average number of birdies hit per round is 3.39. There will be four rounds played by Sunday.

This is not the first time Micheel has lent a helping hand from the golf green. In 1994, he received the Sons of Confederate Veterans Award for bravery when he pulled two passengers from a sinking car, after seeing the accident during a practice round.

Matt Lowell is a senior public relations major at Union University.

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