Professional golfers from around the world make this walk at each tournament, from the 18th tee box up the fairway and onto the green, but at the 44th annual HP Byron Nelson Championship, more than a cheering gallery greets the golfers. A member of the United States Marine Corps stands at attention just off the green as the players make the trek up the fairway waiting to take the 18th pin adorned with our Nations flag, rather than the tournament's logo. Saluting the caddy sharply as the caddy lifts the colors from the cup and passes them to the Marine, he turns, strides proudly off the green, smartly turning to face the play of the green at Parade Rest with the colors presented. After each group finishes play on the 18th, the Marine returns the pin to the cup, salutes the colors, and receives a handshake from each caddy and golfer as they leave the green, thanking him for his service to this country before he returns to his post to await the next group. The sight of Marines should bring a swell of pride in the hearts of all who saw them, just as it did in the heart of one 12 year volunteer veteran of the tournament.
The sight of the Staff Sergeant Shell was a welcomed one. Speaking with him and his wife was a reminder of what these brave men and women do for this country. Staff Sergeant Shell, a Marine on recruiting duty and stationed in Waco, Texas, joined four other Marines on recruiting duty, including another staff sergeant, two sergeants and one corporal from around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to attend the flag during the tournament. When asked why the Marines were doing this, Staff Sergeant Shell said, "Because of Memorial day, the pin on the 18th green was replaced with the American flag to help honor all the troops. Since the flag cannot rest on the ground, the Marines are there to hold the flag while the golfers play through." He went on to state, "we hope to start a tradition of being on the green to draw more light back onto the military and what we do, making this a way to say 'Thank You' to the troops."
Sergeant Shell, a career Marine for a total of 19 years with four tours of duty under his belt, his wife Jessie and dog Freedom, were guest of the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, Texas, a group of men dedicated to serving children in the community and the driving force behind the HP Byron Nelson Championship each year. Founded in 1920, the Salesmanship Club, with the help of the tournament, HP, PGA Tour and the over 900 volunteers, has raised more than $116 million for the youth of North Texas and the Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers. The J. Erik Jonsson Community School in Oak Cliff, Texas, a nonprofit school dedicated to the needs of low-income children and their families, is almost entirely supported by the 600 members of the Salesmanship Club. These men work hard throughout the year to continue to provide support for the at-risk youth throughout the Metroplex. The funds raised by the Salesmanship Club help fill a void no other volunteer organization has managed to fill over the past 90 years.
In 1968, Byron Nelson lent his name to the charity golf tournament and the first Byron Nelson Golf Classic was held at Preston Trail Golf Club, the home of the tournament until 1983, when it moved to its current location at the TPC Four Seasons Resort Los Colinas in Irving, Texas. The golfing community lost a great friend and mentor when Byron Nelson passed away in 2006, but the tournament continues to carry his name and raise funds to support the community he cared so much about. Some of the most notable players in the history of golf have their names permanently etched on the Championship trophy, including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Payne Stewart, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. The HP Byron Nelson Championship boasts a total purse of $6,500,000, one of three non-major golf tournaments to offer a purse of this size with only a couple of major tournaments offering purses that surpass this dollar figure. The 2011 HP Byron Nelson Champion, Keegan Bradley, earned his first ever PGA Tour win at the tournament and took home a check for $1,170,000, not bad for four days worth of work.