Host brings clout to worthy cause

Think of it in these terms: It costs $2.4 million per day to run and operate 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children across the United States and into Mexico and Canada.

Last fall, a Justin Timberlake concert during the local PGA Tour event here raised nearly $1 million, which means it generated enough to keep the lights on and doors open at the hospitals for eight to 10 hours or so.

This is the vastness required to provide free medical attention to those children in need of care for burns, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic conditions and cleft lips and palates, for the Shriners to have treated more than 900,000 kids since 1922 and never once asked for a dime of payment.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it seemingly takes a small country to offer the level of backing needed to help those welcomed into a Shriners hospital. It takes a national and sometimes worldwide effort.

Timberlake’s name always is a good start.

It has been a learning process, this now two-year relationship between the pop artist as celebrity host and those running the tournament that begins today at TPC Summerlin. It has been, to say the least, interesting.

"It’s an ongoing and growing experience," tournament chairman Gary Davis said. "All the parts — Shriners Hospitals for Children, the PGA Tour, Justin Timberlake, the local Las Vegas group here running the tournament — are trying to find out how the pieces fit best.

"I’m pleased with what (Timberlake) has done for us. I think the biggest thing he has learned is to embrace how much involvement he was actually buying into when representing the Shriners Hospitals for Children. This is a big commitment on his end."

It appears he’s taking it more seriously this year.

I don’t have people. I don’t know anyone closely with people. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has a lot of people, most of whom seem to do nothing but enjoy the boxer’s lavish lifestyle. Timberlake has people, most of whom seem to play the role of enabler to perfection.

What his people hopefully have come to understand is that a PGA tournament is not the Kids Choice Awards or some after-party at a Manhattan club. I’m not aware of many golf fans strolling the TPC grounds this week who give a hoot about Timberlake’s love life or what he ate for breakfast.

When it was learned his camp feared there might be helicopters soaring above the course all day in hopes of capturing images of Timberlake last year, much laughter couldn’t be prevented.

Television helicopters were near TPC on Wednesday, but they were covering the funeral of a fallen police officer and definitely not how Timberlake was playing in the Championship Pro-Am. The few hundred watching might have cared; no one else did.

Enablers aside, and these people seem to be within a few steps of his every move, Timberlake should be as accessible as possible the entire week, to fans and media and certainly players, some of whom quietly complained after last year’s tournament about the host’s lack of contact.

His people need to wrap their arms tighter around the concept of what a golf tournament really is.

But that his status produced a forgettable Pro-Am field last year and a good but not spectacular one Wednesday (I’m still not over Johnny Drama being a no-show) shouldn’t deter from the most significant point:

Timberlake’s stature brings Shriners Hospitals for Children the kind of immense attention it needs and deserves. You have to take the good (his concert alone Saturday night at Mandalay Bay will generate enough money to make his involvement worth it) with the bad (his people).

It’s too important a cause, too crucial for those in Las Vegas and beyond to learn about and support Shriners. Timberlake has the kind of clout most others in position of host don’t. He also respects the game and was bright enough to limit the Pro-Am to one day, knowing how serious a PGA Fall Series event can be to a number of players trying to keep their tour cards.

On the golf side of things, he more than gets it.

"This is our second year," Timberlake said. "Anything we have tried comes from a genuine place. Obviously, I have a say in what happens here this week. I don’t think I would change much about what I’ve been doing.

"Once again, when we finish this week, we’ll meet next week and talk about the pros and cons. Probably the hardest part of making everybody happy."

That’s never going to happen and doesn’t need to for the ultimate goal — raising the most money possible for those 22 hospitals — to be achieved.

Timberlake hasn’t been a perfect host. I’m not even sure he owns a watch given how late he always is to news conferences, which if I’m him, means a dock in pay for the people. But with his name attached, those who treat severely injured and burnt children are brought further into the public spotlight.

Nothing but good can come of that.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on "The Sports Scribes" on KDWN-AM (720) and www.kdwn.com.

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