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Breezy Point

Local Golf
September 24, 2017

Steve Stricker with commissioner Tim Finchem recognized as the 2012 winner of the Payne Stewart Award
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Steve Stricker with commissioner Tim Finchem recognized as the 2012 winner of the Payne Stewart Award
Steve Stricker and his wife Nikki, center, with representatives of the American Family Children's Hospital.
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Steve Stricker and his wife Nikki, center, with representatives of the American Family Children's Hospital.
By R.J. Smiley

The PGA TOUR Champions American Family Insurance Championship raised $1,089,500 for charity in its first year! Of that total, American Family Children's Hospital received $589,500.

Headquartered in Madison, WI, American Family Insurance is ranked 315 on the Fortune 500 list. The company continues to grow its brand presence and message of inspiring, protecting and restoring dreams. American Family has a strong commitment to support the communities where its customers, employees and agents live and work. As a large part of that commitment, in 2007 the company helped bring the American Family Insurance Children's Hospital to Madison, WI, by making a major financial commitment. Their support of this world-class facility continues to this day.

After Steve Stricker won the Payne Stewart Award in 2012, American Family Insurance teamed up with Stricker to name him a brand ambassador for the company, as Stricker's values and desire to give back to the community was a natural fit.

Since its inception in 2000, the Payne Stewart Award is given by the PGA TOUR and presented by Southern Company. The Award is given to a player whose "values align with the character, charity and sportsmanship that Stewart showed." This includes respect for the traditions of the game, commitment to uphold the game's heritage of charitable support and professional and meticulous presentation of himself and the sport through his dress and conduct.

Shortly after Stricker was named a brand ambassador, the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation was established in 2013. The mission of the Foundation is to support charities, educational initiatives and organizations aimed at building strong families and healthy kids, empowering them to pursue and achieve their dreams.

With the foundation in place, American Family Insurance and Steve Stricker developed a plan designed to bring an annual professional golf tournament back to Wisconsin, whose proceeds would fund charitable organizations through the foundation. After months of diligent effort, in May of 2015 the PGA TOUR awarded the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation a PGA TOUR Champions event. The Foundation serves as the host organization of the American Family Insurance Championship.

Immediately the search for an individual who could fill two roles simultaneously began. The person selected would be expected to run a PGA TOUR Champion golf event while overseeing the foundation's business as executive director. By early July of 2015 the committee had selected a candidate with deep ties to the state of Wisconsin. Nate Pokrass, a native of Brookfield, WI, with an undergraduate degree in business and a masters in sport administration, was hired. For the past 20 years Nate had worked in collegiate athletic departments and has extensive experience in fundraising, business development and event management. For ten of those twenty years Nate had worked for the University of Wisconsin, so he was pleased to be back in his home state, in this newly created position.

Nate, and the golf tournament staff are housed at the national headquarters of American Family Insurance. American Family Insurance employees also support the efforts of the foundation and the golf tournament. Nate says, "This is a dream job."

As the second annual American Family Insurance Championship unfolds, it seems that all the stars have aligned, which should mean another great event. For years Wisconsin has been recognized as one of the best golf destinations in the world attracting golfers from all corners of the globe. Since the ending of the Greater Milwaukee Open, residents of the Badger state did not have an annual golf tournament to wrap their arms around and call their own. These golf-starved Wisconsin golf fans are expected to attend in increased numbers to the tournament course, University Ridge. A golf tournament, backed and promoted by local residents, golf hero and all-around good guy, Steve Stricker, in partnership with American Family Insurance is a good formula for success. The final star to come into alignment was the 2017 U.S. Open to be held at Erin Hills the week prior to the American Family Insurance Championship.

Nate Pokrass has done an excellent job of bringing a strong field of golfers to the venue. Bleachers have been expanded and video boards have been added to enhance the fan viewing experience. "The world's golf eyes will all be on the state of Wisconsin during June," stated Pokrass.

The question has been asked, "Is Steve Stricker really involved in the foundation or is he only a figure head?" "Steve Stricker and his wife Nicki are deeply involved, said Pokrass. "They are members of the foundation board of directors who review grant requests and select the organizations that will receive the donations.."

In 2016 the Foundation donated $589,500 to the American Family Children's Hospital, and an additional $500,000 to 33 other local charities.

On the December 12, 2016, the recipients were announced at an event at American Family Insurance headquarters. Among the comments:

"On behalf of the Stricker family, we are extremely appreciative of the generosity received from the entire Wisconsin community," said Steve Stricker. "To make a significant impact on local charities while fulfilling our dream of having professional golf back in Wisconsin is unbelievably rewarding."

"This is a day of incredible pride and gratitude," said Jack Salzwedel. "We were told it would be ambitious to expect to raise even $500,000 for charity in the first year of this event. Steve and our tournament team were convinced they could deliver more, and did they ever. This $1 million-plus proceeds for charity represents the overwhelming support of everyone who embraced this great event that will benefit so many. We are very thankful to all who had a part in making this first year such a success."

"We are truly grateful for the passionate support received from sponsors, volunteers and fans to ensure the success of this year's tournament," said Nicki Stricker.

Miller Brady, chief operating officer of the PGA Champions Tour, noted the "phenomenal success" of the tournament, saying it "delivered one of the most impressive first-year events in PGA Champions Tour history." He added, "The support from the fans, sponsors and the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation allowed this tournament to create a major impact in the Madison area, while building a strong foundation for continued growth in the future."

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