MIDDELTON, MA - When waking up on a beautiful summer Monday in Boston, it seemed like a perfect day for hitting the links. Sun beaming down, no rain in the forecast, a slight breeze.
Lucky for Shawn Thornton, that Monday - August 12th - marked the day of his annual charity golf tournament, Putts & Punches for Parkinson's, at Ferncroft Country Club in Middelton, Massachusetts.
"This is a pretty fun one for me - get to come out on a nice day and golf and, see a lot of good people," said Thornton.
"I’m here year round, so it’s pretty easy for me to give back."
It's the fourth year of the tournament, which Shawn began in honor of his late grandmother who went through a 14-year bout with the Parkinson's disease.
It's always a pleasure to cover an event like this, when it's a cause so close to 22's heart.
"She's a great person; I love her very much. She won't be forgotten," Thornton told a few gathered reporters near the clubhouse before the tournament began, as he stood outfitted in his Putts & Punches black polo.
One of his favorite memories of his grandmother? When he was playing junior hockey with the Peterborough Petes, she used to quietly slip a 20 into his pocket every now and then as he was heading out the door to meet his friends (as grandma knew, the weekly income wasn't too high).
"Buy one on me," she'd whisper.
Now, Thornton is hoping to pay it forward with initiatives like his golf tournament.
The B's winger was joined by his teammates Daniel Paille and Tuukka Rask, who are already back in town (we caught up with both of them last week about the upcoming season; you can check out BostonBruins.com for the updates).
"Boston’s the kind of city that it makes you want to do things like this," said Rask, who often comes back early to Boston to train, and is glad he's also back in town to support Thornton at this event.
"He’s done a great job with this tournament. I think it’s just getting better and better by the year," he added. "I think it’s a great example for us."
Of course, the emphasis of the day is about raising funds and awareness - but all while having fun.
The Celebrity Long Drive Competition kicked off the event, before a couple hundred golfers packed the course for 18 holes before the day would wrap up for an auction and dinner (there was such a jump in support this year, they unfortunately even had to turn some away due to capacity).
Thorty went up to the tee first for the competition, cranking out what was announced as a 280-yard drive."Is that a host number? That's generous," he joked to the announcer.
Tuukka followed soon after - and, not surprisingly, is just as easy-going in his golf demeanor as between the pipes. "That'll play, that'll play," he said, as he appeased the crowd surrounding the tee box after his drive.
"It doesn’t really matter if I practice or not; it seems to go left and right anyways," Rask had laughed, prior to heading down from the clubhouse to the course. "So, we’ll see how it goes."
I had joined Rask, Thornton and Paille for batting practice at Fenway Park last summer, and I remember the competition always being measured up to Paille.
Well, that proved true in golf as well. Danny nonchalantly delivered a 305-yard drive in the Long Drive competition (he's a past winner). Only PGA pro Jimmy Driscoll could pass him.
Bruins alumni Jay Miller, Tommy Songin and Bob Sweeney also joined Thornton and the B's to tee off for the cause, along with Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman and former New England Patriot Jermaine Wiggins.
It proved to be a fantastic all-around day, for a cause very close to Shawn, with great people helping to raise funds and making it all the more worthwhile.
And so, only one question remained….
"Which are you better at, 'putts' or 'punches'?" a reporter asked Shawn, referring to his cleverly named tournament.
"Probably neither," joked Thornton. "I'm slightly above average at both."
"So, no Bob Barker moments today?" I then jested.
"No, no, definitely not," he smiled.
He'll save those for the ice...