The Coast News Group
Stephen Burke, who hit the second hole-in-one of the day and his first ever, donated $150 of his winnings back to Operation Game On. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Rancho Santa Fe Rancho Santa Fe Featured Sports

Golfers aim for 15-inch cup to help injured warriors

RANCHO SANTA FE — “That’s impossible, man,” professional golfer Pat Perez said after failing to sink a hole-in-one in a cup nearly four times larger than the traditional hole.

He made the comment to his father, Tony Perez, during the second annual 15-Inch Hole-in-One Cup Challenge held Jan. 25 at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club to benefit Operation Game On, a program created in 2008 by the elder Perez.

While the challenge may have been difficult, even for a professional, it wasn’t impossible. In fact, 14 holes-in-one were made, mostly by people who said they play the game for fun.

The first two were made within the first 15 minutes of the event. Mark Gober and Stephen Burke hit the oversized cups from 50 and 75 yards away, respectively. Like most winners, both donated part of their winnings back to Operation Game On.

About 40 minutes into it Nancy Neglia gave a repeat performance from last year. She sunk one from 50 yards out and was again the only woman to make a hole-in-one all day.

Participants paid $150 for 20 golf balls which they tried to get in cups either 50, 75, 100 or 150 yards away to win $150, $250, $500 or $1,000, respectively. Six winners hit the 50-yard mark, six made it from 75 yards away and two sunk a hole-in-one 100 yards out.

The payouts would have totaled $3,400 but $950 was donated back to Operation Game On, which provides free golf lessons and equipment for severely physically and mentally injured soldiers, most of them undergoing treatment at Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.

Perez said he raised more than $51,000, about twice what the event earned last year.

Participants were treated to free beverages, Dang Brother Pizza, tacos and sandwiches from Jersey Mike’s. There was also a putting contest and silent auction featuring golf packages to play at area courses, golf equipment and lessons, jewelry and restaurant certificates.

About halfway into the three-hour event, professional golfers and instructors teed off against the troops.

Perez, Ted Norby, Matt Clay, Lori Brock, Bob Knee and Shawn Cox were given 10 balls to make a hole-in-one, although a few took several extra shots.

Only Norby was successful — twice — from 75 yards away, using one of Perez’s clubs.

“He’s not getting it back,” said, Norby, who is one of two Operation Game On instructors.

His lessons appear to be effective, as the pros were defeated by the veterans after Charles Vasquez, Dan Stoner, Josh Harrisberger and Dave Ricardo all made holes-in-one.

Perez, who also hosts an annual golf tournament to raise funds, praised his committee for going “above and beyond” to coordinate the event, which attracted more than 200 participants.

But the real winners of the day, he said, are the combat-injured troops.

“At Operation Game On we try to get them back to somewhat of a normal life,” said Perez, a Vietnam War veteran. “They are our American heroes. They are away from their families at Christmas. They struggle when they get home.

“I’m proud to know these gentlemen,” he added.”I think the world of them.”