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Jaywalking: Helping hands

You’ve probably heard by now or even seen the photos in Saturday’s Recorder, but somehow you know that PGA professional Jason Dufner was hitting balls at Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston Friday.

The golfer, currently listed at No. 19 in the world golf rankings, was in the area over the weekend to host a number of events for the Jill E. Harrington Hanzalik Memorial Golf Tournament to benefit the Chase Your Dreams Now initiative. The event, billed as the Dream Weekend, was organized by executive director Kevin Harrington, and was made possible through the connections of JEHH founder Adam Harrington. Dufner and Adam Harrington are Auburn University alumni, and while they never met on campus (Dufner is a few years older), they had a mutual friend who put the two in touch. Harrington met Dufner at the Travelers Championship in Hartford last summer, and the two became friends. It was that friendship that helped bring Dufner to the area this weekend, and he was happy to help.

“This is one of the things I’ve done to use my platform,” Dufner said. “I’ve done everything in golf I can think of and I think it’s important to start giving back. Adam is a good friend of mine, they’ve got a great cause here, they help a lot of people out, and I’m willing to do anything I can to help raise money and benefit their cause.”

Dufner had arrived early and got the chance to play the front nine holes once before asked what he thought of the course.

“It’s good,” he said. “It’s tight, it’s tricky. It’s a nice golf course.”

It could not have been a much nicer day for golf, weather-wise on Friday afternoon, with sunny skies and cool conditions. The first event of the weekend was Friday’s Skins Game, which attracted 43 golfers at $500 a pop Friday. The afternoon began with Dufner speaking to the crowd for about an hour, answering questions and showing off his sweet swing. He spoke to the crowd about an array of things, but concentrated the start of his lecture by explaining his advice on how players can improve their game.

“Learn to be consistent with what you are doing,” he stressed. “I’m consistently working on the same thing in order to get better.”

He discussed how he warms up prior to events (by getting to the course three hours early and hitting six balls with each of his clubs in the same order every time), and even talked about his famous waggle. If you don’t know about the waggle, search out “Jason Dufner waggle” on the Internet and you will get plenty of videos. He said he is not really sure where he developed the waggle from, and it’s not something he consciously does. He said maybe he developed it by watching older golfers (the waggle is a lost art form in the sport) or because he played a lot of baseball as a kid, and when he was hitting he would always be moving prior to the pitch. He even joked and said that he felt like putting was the weakest part of his game, and it’s also the time he doesn’t waggle prior to hitting the ball, so he deduced that maybe he should waggle prior to a putt. He gave a little demonstration of what that might look like, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Through all the talking, perhaps the sweetest part was watching him hit balls from the range. He pulled out various irons and dropped balls on the array of greens at the range, and later pulled out his driver and blasted a tee shot to the back of the range.

Toward the end of the clinic/question-and-answer session, Adam and Kevin Harrington also introduced two-time NBA champion Mike Miller, currently of the Memphis Grizzlies and formerly of the Miami Heat, where he won both of his titles. Miller, who hails from South Dakota, said he and Adam Harrington met during high school and have been friends ever since. One person told me they had heard Miller ask what the course record is at CFC (it’s 64 set by Mike Zaranek) and he responded that he had it. As he warmed up prior to the skins game on Friday, I asked him how his practice session went and if he set any course records.

“Maybe the worst course record,” he said with a laugh.

Miller, Harrington and Dufner were joined in their skins-game foursome by Aaron Lewis, former frontman of the band Staind, who remained much more incognito than the other celebrities. Lewis, sporting a white polo and red shorts and hat (you can actually see him standing just to the left of Kevin Harrington in the photo that ran on the front of the sport’s section of Saturday’s paper), is apparently an avid golfer who actually runs his own benefit golf tournament at Crumpin-Fox.

“This is just a great way for me to give back anonymously to the community,” he said of his Friday appearance.

I did ask him for permission to mention his appearance and he was happy to oblige. Figure the least I can do in exchange is mention that Lewis, a native of Longmeadow, is the founder of the “It Takes a Community Foundation,” which was initially started to raise money to save the R.H. Conwell School in Worthington and now helps raise funds to revive rural New England communities.

Lewis is holding his fourth annual Aaron Lewis and Friends Benefit Concert at The Pines Theater at Look Park in Northampton Friday night (it’s sold out), and will hold the third annual Aaron Lewis Invitational Charity Golf Tournament at Crumpin-Fox on Aug. 9. For more information on this go to itacf.org.

Back to Friday’s JEHH events, after the skins game, all of the players were joined by other individuals who paid $100 per ticket to take part in a gala affair at Alumni Hall at NMH, where patrons enjoyed a wide array of food, as well as a talk by Dufner. Kevin Harrington said that the food was unbelievable and no one left hungry.

“Rich Messer and his staff just crushed it,” he said of the catering.

There was also a silent auction taking place at the event, as well as an online auction. Items featured were LeBron James autographed sneakers, Kevin Durant autographed game-worn items, a chance to sit with actor Mark Wahlberg at the Transformers premiere in Boston, and many others. The online auction picked up even more traffic when Durant tweeted out the link to his more than 7 million followers, and it picked up more again when Jon Lester tweeted about it.

The weekend concluded with a sold out JEHH Memorial Golf Tournament Saturday at Mount Snow Golf Club in West Dover, Vt.

It turned out to be a wonderful weekend for the foundation, and Kevin Harrington said that the Dream Weekend turned out to be a dream come true.

“It was an absolute success,” he said on Monday afternoon. “It was beyond anything we could have imagined.”

So how did Dufner do on Friday afternoon? He did not win a single skin and actually finished the course by shooting par. So the 43 players taking part were able to split up the $8,000 in skins awarded ($4,000 gross and $4,000 net).

When I spoke to Adam Harrington about a month ago, we also spoke about his relationship with Oklahoma City star and NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant, for whom he is the personal trainer and spiritual advisor. It’s an interesting story that actually goes back to his one-year stop at North Carolina State, where he played basketball and became best friends with a man named Carl Lentz.

At that point in his life, Harrington was living the college life. He said he grew up as a “convenient Christian,” and religion was not a part of his life. The same was true of Lentz. But things began to change after college, and in 2007 Harrington said he was “saved” when he was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean by none other than Lentz. You see, Lentz never made it in basketball and wound up going over to Australia, where he had a calling that led him to a religious life. He is now somewhat of a pastoral celebrity and has landed the nickname the “Apostle of Cool.” He is a member of the Hillsong Church, and he preaches in New York City.

Lentz also happens to do some pastoring for the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, and through these contacts met Durant. One of Lentz’s stops on a speaking tour landed him in Oklahoma City, and Durant invited him to stop by. Lentz told Harrington he should join him in Oklahoma City to meet Durant, and Harrington took him up on the offer.

As it turned out, one of Durant’s favorite players in the NBA growing up was Dallas Maverick’s power forward Dirk Nowitzki, whom Harrington was a teammate and friend of. The two hit it off.

“I met Kevin and then all of a sudden I’m in a gym showing him footwork drills,” Harrington said. “We kind of became best friends. We’d watch film together, workout together. He’s an unbelieveable guy, and has a huge heart.”

Harrington calls himself a personal trainer/spiritual advisor to Durant and said during the season he was traveling up to three weeks per month to spend time with him. Harrington said that he laid down some rules when he started with Durant, expressing that he was not in it to just hang around with one of the greatest basketball players on the planet, but that he was genuinely looking to make a difference. He said part of the reason was because he did not want to be away from wife Kearstin and their three boys Jonah, Jayden and Jaxon, unless he was making a difference to Durant.

“I didn’t want to be what is called a ‘Rep guy,’ a guy that rebounds and passes with a player,” Harrington said. “I wanted to teach him. I told him that ‘the moment I don’t add value to you, I’m out of here.’”

Harrington said he works with Durant on a number of fronts, including footwork (a No. 1 priority), drills, and other training exercises, and that a lot of what they talk about together is philosophy and spirituality.

“For Kevin, it was about him finding joy and peace in playing and knowing he’s already won the game,” he said. “There is no one more blessed than KD, the goal was to have him smile more. I think it was Michael Jordan who had the philosophy that went something like ‘Every night you play, there is someone new in the arena who is seeing you play for the first time. What is their opinion going to be?’”

“He’s the greatest player on the planet and I get to be with him,” Harrington continued. “I’m like a giddy school kid, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for Kevin.”

The two men seem to have a respect for one another that transcends basketball, and one that has developed out of a shared sense that there is more to life than the game. It’s part of what has made Harrington so successful in his post-basketball life, both in his working with Durant, as well as continuing to grow the JEHH Memorial Fund.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com

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