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Wings' pair get a kick on links in pro-am

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby admires his drive off the 18th tee at Warwick Hills during the Buick Open Pro-Am on Wednesday.
GRAND BLANC, Mich. -- Dan Cleary and Kirk Maltby were playing a sport in front of some hometown fans Wednesday morning, but it wasn’t on the Joe Louis Arena ice.

The Red Wings’ players, along with general manager Ken Holland, participated in the Pure Michigan’s Buick Open Pro-Am golf outing at Warwick Hills.

Cleary and Maltby teamed up with golf pro Brad Faxon to take on 43 other fivesomes that included local celebrities from the Detroit Lions, Detroit Pistons and legendary rock n’ roller and Ann Arbor native Bob Seger.

“It was great,” Maltby said.  “The weather turned out to be a beautiful day, and we got to play with Brad and he was great out there with us and our group, and the fans.  I made a few good shots so I don’t feel like I was totally useless out there.”

The Wings’ pairing finished tied in 12th place at 14-under along with teams led by pros Justin Leonard, John Daly and Andres Romero.  The Jason Gore and Marc Turnesa groups split the championship at 18-under.

“The atmosphere is awesome," said Cleary, who has a 9-handicap. "I’ve never been up this far, and just to be involved in a PGA event is pretty cool, and hanging out with these guys like Faxon and a few other guys.”

The Hockeytown faithful were well-represented at the course, as Cleary and Maltby signed autographs for fans between each hole. Maltby, in his second pro-am, noted that being a spectator at a golf course can be more dangerous then a hockey rink.

“They’re a lot closer here,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to hurt a fan in hockey, obviously the puck goes over the glass and that, but when a ball comes screaming in from about 50 yards out, it’s hard to get out of the way.  I’m glad none of that happened today.

“It’s nice to get applauded,” Maltby continued. “And you can hear them a lot better, but no one had anything too bad to say today.” 

Cleary talked about how the pressure is different when he’s playing golf.

“I can’t imagine Sundays with the grand stands being pretty crowded,” he said. “The nerves you get on the golf course are so much different then on the ice, but it was a great experience.”

The Wings’ duo tried to take advantage of playing with Faxon, one of the PGA Tour’s top putters. Cleary even had Faxon come to the practice green after their round to give the gritty forward some more tips for soft play on the green.

“He helped me read some putts, which obviously is what he is known for … he’s a great putter,” Maltby said. “He made some great putts today, but he’s just a nice guy.  We talked, it wasn’t just about hockey or golf, it was about families and stuff like that. He was a great guy, very down to earth, and I wish him all the best.”
Brad Faxon signs autographs for fans during Wednesday's pro-am event at the Buick Open at Warwick Hills. Faxon was paired with Red Wings' Cleary and Maltby.

Faxon had a lot to say about his new golfing partners, as well. The eight-time tournament winner said that with a little more practice, the Wings’ forwards could give the pros a difficult time on the golf course.

“They’re absolute bandits, they’re way over-handicapped,” Faxon said. “They’re fantastic, I think they really love being out here. You can tell they’ve got that competitiveness that any pro athlete has, but at the same time, I think that the most of the hockey players I’ve been around … I love their attitudes, you know? They’ve got that ‘I’ll try as hard as I can then I don’t care after that’ care-free.

“You can tell they’ve only been playing for a little while, if they spent more time on it we’d all be in trouble.”

Of all the opponents the Wings’ players were watching, they were focused on what Holland would be doing later. Holland was paired with pro Rory Sabbatini. Their group finished at 11-under.

“Kenny’s a gamer, he’s a good golfer, and he’s pretty competitive out there,” Maltby said. “It’s all in fun, but it will be nice to have some bragging rights over him though.”

Wings’ off-season moves: Here’s what Cleary and Maltby had to say about the Wings’ off-season moves:

“The salary cap has definitely caught up with us,” Cleary said. “We knew we were going to lose (Marian Hossa) and (Mikael Samuelsson). I think the one that caught us off guard was (Jiri) Hudler. But we’ve always found a way to bring players along. I think we have good players waiting in the wings, waiting to contribute.

“We’re losing whatever it is, 80 goals, we’re not going to be a high-scoring team, but we have to focus on defense.”

The Wings know that some of the younger players who have sharpened their skills in Grand Rapids over the few seasons will be called upon to now contribute in Detroit.

“Our depth will definitely get tested maybe a little bit more with this happening,” Maltby said. “We have guys in Grand Rapids who were with us during the playoffs who are obviously ready to play and will fill those voids. But there are injuries and things that happen in the course of the year and that could be an issue, but as for the guys in the dressing room we know that we still have a lot of talent, we have a lot of experience, and character in that dressing room.”

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