PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Excitement over The Players Championship is hitting a fever pitch with a host of big names set to tee off Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.
That enthusiasm is rivaled only by the anticipation of how much money will be raised for charity at the tournament, which has generated millions over the years for good causes across Northeast Florida.
Caddies traded places with golfers Wednesday for the Caddie Competition, an annual fundraiser. The PGA Tour will match the money raised and donate the proceeds to the Bruce Edwards Foundation.
The tournament raised a record $8.7 million in 2017, bringing the total to $92 million. Organizers hope that trend will continue this year and allow them to eclipse the $100 million mark.
"We said that 10 years ago and it looks like we are going to hit that number within seven years, so that is the exciting part for us," said tournament chairman Damon Olinto.
Donations from The Players have made major differences in the lives of countless families throughout the area, families like the Baloms of Jacksonville.
Tatiana Balom, 15, was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder at age 4. But after three liver transplants that saved her life, she was in for the experience of a lifetime Wednesday.
That’s when she got to meet her favorite golfer, Tiger Woods.
"He was my idol since I was in the hospital and my grandpa introduced me to golf, and the first person that came down was Tiger Woods," the teen told News4Jax.
Balom couldn’t contain her excitement. Forget butterflies in her belly, she broke down in tears.
"I was really crying of joy," she said.
It was all made possible through the generosity of others and Dreams Come True, a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping children who are battling life-threatening illnesses.
"Without that organization, without the community, without family and friends, we wouldn’t be standing here today actually seeing her smile," said her mother, Heather Balom.
Olinto, the tournament chairman, credited thousands of volunteers and donors who have contributed their time and resources over the years with making the fundraising efforts possible.
"The other night I was able to give a check to the Jacksonville University’s women’s golf team so they could buy a new van because they don't even have a van,” he said. "It’s stuff like that that really kind of hits your heart and why we do what we do.”