Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan tees off duirng the Matt Ryan Celebrity-Am as part of the Greater Gwinnett Championship at TPC at Sugarloaf. (Photo: Heather Kirksey)
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DULUTH — Moments after splitting the 10th fairway with a drive Monday, former Atlanta Falcons star Warrick Dunn took a minute to assess the friendly competition at the Matt Ryan Celebrity-Am.
The golf tournament, a fundraiser for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Aflac Cancer Center and the Matt Ryan Foundation, brought a group of current and former professional athletes together for a good cause. It served as the first on-course event leading up to this weekend’s Greater Gwinnett Championship, the county’s annual Champions Tour stop.
Dunn was part of the star power on hand, part of a group that also included recently retired Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones. Phil Niekro, Javy Lopez, Otis Nixon, Brian Finneran, Alge Crumpler, Matt Bryant, Jonathan Babineaux, Wes Durham, Dave Archer and others also participated.
Not all of the athletes and ex-athletes were good golfers, but they all had fun, and finished most of their golf before the afternoon rain set in.
“I will take any baseball player (in this event), their hand-eye coordination is usually there,” Dunn said. “Matt Bryant is good. Kickers, what else do they do? They kick and play golf. And usually the quarterbacks. I don’t think (D.J.) Shockley’s a good golfer, though, even though he plays. He’s probably working too much.”
It was no surprise to see Dunn, known throughout his playing career and beyond as one of the more philanthropic guys in the NFL, contributing his time Monday. He was eager to support Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons’ starting quarterback and a very active fundraiser for Atlanta-area charities.
One of his biggest efforts involves CHOA, considered one of the nation’s top children’s hospital systems.
“This is my fourth year doing the tournament with Children’s and the involvement with them has been since I’ve been down here,” Ryan said. “As a rookie, I visited Scottish Rite and from that point forward it was whatever I can do to help. It’s been really great working with them. We also do a dinner during the season to help fundraise and last year we had Tony Gonzalez come. It’s a great organization. It’s something my wife and I are happy to help out with and do as much as we can.
“A lot of former Falcons guys come out and show great support, which is really nice of them. Chipper’s out here, which is huge. Any time you can have Chipper come, he’s an Atlanta legend. And we get some guys out here from the team who play. A bunch of our offensive linemen are out here. They like to play. It’s an afternoon away from football for them to enjoy themselves.”
Ryan was one of the more accomplished golfers in the field, but he wasn’t alone.
“Matt Bryant’s a good player,” Ryan said. “He doesn’t get to play as much as he’d like with a bunch of kids. He’s a good player. He lives up at Chateau Elan and I enjoy playing with him up there. Josh Harris, our long snapper, is a really good player. We’ve got some good guys on the team.”
The tourney also is a homecoming of sorts for Ryan, who lived in Sugarloaf early in his pro career until he and his wife Sarah relocated to Buckhead. He still plays the Duluth course a couple of times a year, the most noteworthy being his annual celebrity-am.
It’s a fun day with an important mission.
“I just think it’s a good cause,” Dunn said. “There are a lot of kids in need. They have a really good spokesman in Matt Ryan. He’s trying to raise money but also create awareness. That’s the big thing. He’s the type of guy who can bring out all these big-time players.”