2010 PGA Rookie of the Year Rickie Fowler smacked a shot for the ages March 7 at Old Palm Bay Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., sinking a hole in one worth $1 million at the annual Els for Autism Pro-Am, a charity event hosted by Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines. The hole in one was the final event of Ernie Els' pro-am, a chance for 22 of the biggest names in golf to take a shot at the 19th hole. Anyone who hit an ace would win $1 million for the Els for Autism charity, courtesy of SAP and Ketel One Vodka.
"It was utter hysteria when Rickie one-hopped the ball into the cup. We all went wild in celebration," said Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator.
Fowler's shot swelled the money raised at the event to a record $1.8 million. The focus of the charity has been the creation of the Els Center of Excellence, a school for children with autism. The lower school opened last year, and there is a spot onsite for a planned upper school for older children. "This means we can build the upper school," said Els' wife, Liezl. "I can't put into words how much it means."
After a tournament pairing them with 66 amateurs, it was time for the pros to take their shot at the million-dollar pin. One by one, golf's best, including the legendary Jack Nicklaus, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Brooks Koepka, Nick Price, Thomas Aiken and Vijay Singh, all tried to find the cup. Some came close, drawing gasps and cheers from the crowd. But it appeared there would be no hole in one.
"Is there anybody else?" asked Ernie Els, looking around. "Rickie, come up here." Fowler, 27, had already put his clubs away, so he borrowed a club. He stepped to the tee and swung. The ball soared. It hopped. And it went in the hole.
The crowd erupted, and Els grabbed Fowler in a bear hug and lifted him in the air. "This man—he is my hero," said Els. "The hairs on my arm are still standing up. It's a million bucks—we can start the second phase now." Els' son Ben, who has autism, was the inspiration for the charity, which prior to this day had raised $7 million.
"You couldn't ask for a better moment to have something like that happen," said Fowler, minutes after taking the shot. "It's definitely special to be a part of days like this. This is the cherry on the top."
The contest on the first 18 holes was won, with a score of 58, by the team headed by pro Camilo Villegas, playing with Marc Goodrich, David Dean and Kevin Roberts. "So many star pros to thank for their playing on their day off. So many amateur players to thank from the wine, spirits and cigar industry for their ongoing support," said Shanken. "The best day of the year!"