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Zetterberg gets chance of a lifetime to golf with a legend

Former Wings captain played with Nicklaus in charity event; Bentley and Kid Rock also in foursome

by Bob Duff @asktheduffer / Special to DetroitRedWings.com

GRAND BLANC -- As he stepped up to tee off Saturday at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club, Henrik Zetterberg was overcome with the competing sensations of awe and terror.

Preparing to hit, taking a couple of practice swings, the guy standing off to the side of the tee box caught Zetterberg's eye.

 

It was golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, the greatest to ever play the game, and Zetterberg's opponent for the day.

"I was a little nervous but it was very exciting," Zetterberg admitted. "It's pretty special. I for sure never thought it would happen. But here we are today, and I'm getting to spend time with him."

The former Detroit Red Wings captain was invited to participate in the Ally Challenge Celebrity Shootout, part of this week's PGA Tour Champions event in Grand Blanc, Mich.

Tweet from @JournalistKyle: Cool to see Jack Nicklaus, Kid Rock, Dierks Bentley, and Henrik Zetterberg playing for charity following the last group at the @AllyChallenge today. #golf pic.twitter.com/x3QYZBpd8R

The event pitted Zetterberg and country music star Dierks Bentley against Nicklaus and Detroit music icon Kid Rock in a nine-hole scramble event run like a skins game.

No one had to tell Zetterberg how lucky he was to be playing golf with 18-time major winner Nicklaus.

"It's obviously an opportunity that I could never turn down," Zetterberg said. "They called and asked me probably about a month ago. "I came over from Sweden last week. I spent some time with the guys up in Traverse City and now I get to finish off my trip with this day."

The 2007-08 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as Stanley Cup MVP was modest about his place in the celebrity pecking order among this famous foursome.

Tweet from @mikewoolfolk: Fmr. @DetroitRedWings star Henrik Zetterberg at Warwick Hills. He���s playing in this afternoon���s Celebrity Shootout with @jacknicklaus @KidRock & @DierksBentley! @nbc25fox66 @JeannaTrotmanTV @NeilleGiffune @AllyChallenge pic.twitter.com/MiXn2tBYnd

"I'm the odd man out today if you look at the whole foursome," Zetterberg said. "To me it's just an honor to be here."

Not everyone viewed it as such. At Warwick Hills' raucous 17th hole, where there's always a party going on, one leather-lunged Red Wings fan offered Zetterberg a piece of advice.

"Show them who the real king of Detroit is, Hank," the fellow suggested.

Zetterberg smiled and pointed across the green to Nicklaus.

Tweet from @BraedonShick: @AllyChallenge @DetroitRedWings Finally got to meet Henrik Zetterberg!!!!! pic.twitter.com/xkuGHYg1rK

"Playing with Jack is special," Zetterberg said. "Even with Bob (Kid Rock) and Dierks, it's a fun day."

Zetterberg allowed to being an eight handicap.

"I wish it was better," he said.

It was suggested to him that teeing it up with Nicklaus was akin to someone showing up for pick-up hockey and finding out Zetterberg was on the other team.

"I try to be consistent," said of his golf game. "I'm not the longest one. "I just try to stay in play. I don't have the length that the young guys have. Dylan (Larkin) definitely hits it longer than me. I have more time now to work on my game. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to beat Dyls someday."

Nicklaus is close friends with Kid Rock, whom he first met at the Masters at Augusta National.

However, it was unbeknownst to him that he was in the presence of rock and roll hierarchy. "I met this fellow at Augusta named Bob Ritchie," Nicklaus recalled. "He was a very pleasant fellow, a really nice guy.

"After he walked away, someone said to me, 'You know who that was? That was Kid Rock.' I asked, 'Who's Kid Rock?'"

Today, Kid Rock is a member of The Bear's Club, the Nicklaus-operated course in Jupiter, Fla.

Saturday was the first time that the man nicknamed the Golden Bear had met the man Wings fans know simply as Z.

"I don't know Henrik Zetterberg, but I know he was an All-Star player and a Stanley Cup champion," Nicklaus said.

While admittedly not much of a hockey fan, Nicklaus is still a supporter of his local team, Detroit's Atlantic Division rivals the Florida Panthers.

"I've been to one hockey game in my life," Nicklaus said. "I've been a season-ticket holder for the Florida Panthers for about 12 years now.

"I went to one game, and that was when they were throwing the rats on the ice when they were playing the (Colorado) Avalanche (in the 1995-96 Stanley Cup final). We sat behind the glass and every time the puck hit the glass my wife (Barbara) jumped."

It hadn't dawned on Zetterberg that Saturday was the one-year anniversary of his announcement that he was no longer able to play in the NHL after 15 seasons and 1,082 games as a Red Wing due to chronic back issues.

"Is it?" Zetterberg said, clearly taken by surprise. "Okay. Last year was different. But it was nice. "

We stayed here in Detroit. It was good for me to be still involved with the team. I came down to practices. I saw almost all the home games live.

"We made a move to Sweden this summer. I'm not really sure how it's going to be. Obviously, we're happy to be back with family and friends and start a new chapter in life.

"I came over here for a week. I'm going to come over in October for a couple of weeks. We will probably come over three or four times during the season and be around."

After watching some of the NHL Prospects Tournament and the start of Red Wings training camp in Traverse City, Mich., Zetterberg is also of the belief that people are going to pleasantly surprised with what the team has to offer this season.

"I would say it's a little deeper this year," Zetterberg said. "I think if you look at the D end, I think we have some young kids that are really going to push for spots. We made some nice additions.

"Health-wise, you have to be healthy. If we're healthy, the D's gonna be great. And then the forwards, we all saw what the three kids (Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi) did last year -- they're not really kids anymore, are they? But they're gonna be one more year in the league. I just hope they keep going and taking their steps.

"I think getting (center Valtteri) Filppula back is going to be real big for us. If you look at the center position all the way through, it looks real solid. I think we're going to be better this year, definitely deeper. But we all know the league is tight.

"It's a hard division. But we're going to win more games. I can promise you that."

At the end of the day, Saturday's tournament finished in fitting fashion.

Nicklaus holed out from 50 feet in a chip off competition on 18 to determine the winners.

Tweet from @Sloc12: 79 year old Jack Nicklaus wins the @AllyChallenge celebrity shootout in a chip off along side Kid Rock, Dierks Bentley and Henrik Zetterberg. #SCTop10 @espn @ESPNAssignDesk @SportsCenter pic.twitter.com/dU0M3eEbg 

Nicklaus and Kid Rock won $18,000 for the Genesee (Mich.) County United Way. Zetterberg and Bentley won $7,000 for the Genesee (Mich.) County Habitat For Humanity.

Zetterberg also accepted a check for $25,000 to go to Detroit's Clark Park Coalition.

"None of this would ever happen if I didn't play hockey," Zetterberg said. "A lot of good things come of it.

"This is something that we cherish, the opportunity to be able to give back. Just to come here and play golf and at the same time give back to the community is special."

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