Hall of Fame golfer Hale Irwin sets Alaska golfers up for success by hitting tee shots at a charity tournament

Jason Louvier drained a 12-foot birdie putt on Anchorage Golf Course’s par-4 seventh hole late Friday morning, making good use of a second-chance mulligan purchased prior to play.

As he and his teammates approached the No. 8 tee box and a chance to briefly golf with Hall of Famer Hale Irwin, Louvier tried to assess the developing situation.

“Let’s see ... (Irwin) is a three-time U.S. Open champion and a Champions Tour rookie of the year. I’ve made a couple of birdies in my life and never won a Closest to the Pin contest,” said Louvier, the TelAlaska vice president of operations.

“A full 180 degrees of separation on the resume is a bit of concern.”

Thankfully, Irwin kept the mood light for the 140 players who participated in the annual Afognak Youth Charity Golf Tournament.

His job was to repeatedly hit 130-yard tee shots at No. 8 to set up teams for birdie putts on the par-3 hole, and he performed beautifully.

When those putts went down, as they often did, teammates joyfully yelled back their appreciation, and Irwin loved what he heard.

“It matters little how the ball is struck, it’s about that sound, the enjoyment factor,” said Irwin, 76. “It’s the camaraderie, the fun, the ribbing, and it’s about self-evaluation. It’s you and the ball.

“If someone hits one better than me, I applaud them.”

Irwin won the U.S. Open in 1974, 1979 and famously in 1990 at age 45. He’s making his second trip to Alaska, joined by Sally, his wife of 56 years, his brother, Phil, and other family member. The group plans to be here for about a week, with bear viewing, fishing and a trip to Denali in the offing.

“We’re all looking forward to seeing the sights,” Irwin said.

Tournament teams purchased $100 raffle tickets in exchange for Irwin hitting an autographed ball off the No. 8 tee, and raffle winners took home one of his competition clubs mounted on an autographed, wooden plaque.

Proceeds from the fifth-annual tournament will go to education programs in the Native villages of Afognak and Port Lions that give youths opportunities to learn the Alutiiq language, practice traditional harvest and survival skills, and otherwise become more involved in their culture.

“Those of us lucky enough to give back to the game of golf like this often show favoritism to helping kids. Because we know the future is in the hands of our children,” Irwin said. “Golfers on the Tour tend to view all kids as our extended family and part of our base support.

“For all of us who’ve drawn from this game like we have, the pleasure is also really from meeting people like we’re doing today.”

People like Louvier, whose own tee shot on No. 8 came up shy of the green and watched as his team failed to convert Irwin’s tee shot into a birdie.

“Pressure makes diamonds and I was all coal,” Louvier said.

Or people like Kirstie Gray and her Northrim Bank teammates Kiersten Russell, Danicia Shiryayev and Kari Skinner. The foursome was finishing the seventh, one hole away from Irwin, when Gray loudly urged a teammate to sink the putt to spare her from walking across the green. “Don’t make me walk down there!” she shouted.

At the No. 8 tee box, Irwin addressed his ball and tee shot for the team ahead of Gray’s. Until he couldn’t because of the outburst at No. 7.

“OK, that got me,” Irwin said with laughter as he stepped back from the shot.

Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590) Saturdays at 11 a.m. Find him on social media at @MNevala9.