By Michael Curet, Special to PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Country music recording artist Dierks Bentley felt humbled when asked to perform in concert at this year's 5th annual Military Appreciation Day at THE PLAYERS Championship. As he closed Wednesday's emotional day of activities with an early-evening hour-long performance at THE PLAYERS, Bentley didn't disappoint.
His music was cheered loudly by fans, but it was a toast that he gave in honor of the military that also drew a big ovation.
"To all the men, women and families in the military," said Bentley, "I am honored and humbled to be in your presence. This day is for you."
Prior to taking the stage, Bentley stopped by the Birdies for the Brave Patriots’ Outpost where he visited with a number of members of their military to show his appreciation.
Once on stage, he echoed those sentiments and reached out with his voice to the thousands packing the TPC Sawgrass lawn and overflowing onto the Stadium Course. He reeled off hit singles "Am I the Only One", "Free and Easy", "5150", "Feel that Fire" and "Tip it on Back."
The program started with a salute to the United States Navy led by the Jacksonville Children's Chorus performing an "Armed Forces Salute" and later the National Anthem. A flyover followed by the Red Stars of North Florida. NBC's Dan Hicks recognized PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem, Admiral Jack Scorby, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and former PLAYERS champion Fred Funk.
Funk, a longtime Ponte Vedra resident, was excited to take part in the ceremony.
"When I see a military person in uniform whether it's at an airport or on the street, it makes me feel really proud," said Funk, winner of THE PLAYERS in 2005. "Society tends to put athletes and actors up as idols. I don't see that at all. All athletes do is play a game. Sometimes we're really good at it and make it look really easy. Actors play a role. Soldiers play the real game and it's not a game to them. Without their sacrifice, we wouldn't have the freedoms that we have."
Matt Rapp, Executive Director of THE PLAYERS, felt the crowds Wednesday on Military Appreciation Day could have been the biggest ever.
"If this doesn't make you feel good about America, nothing else will," Rapp said. "It's great to see the Jacksonville area showing their support for their military, which is so close to so many people on the First Coast, and they're having a great time doing it. We're honored to be able to do it and appreciative of everybody who cooperates and helps us put it on. "
Also acknowledged and in attendance were U.S. Army Adjutant General of Florida National Guard MG Emmett Titshaw, U.S. Army Major General Don Tyre, U.S. Air Force Brig. General James Eifert, U.S. Air Force Brig. General Robert Branyon, U.S. Coast Guard Captain Thomas Allen, U.S. Marine Corp Major Joshua Kissoon, U.S. Navy Captain Harvey Guffey, U.S. Navy Captain Robert Sanders, U.S. Navy Captain Doug Cochrane, and the Wounded Warriors.
Earlier in the day, the Birdies for the Brave Patriots’ Outpost opened with the presentation of an honorary TPC Summerlin membership to a wounded warrior as part of the PGA TOUR’s seven-year relationship with the Wounded Warrior Project and Birdies for the Brave. Commissioner Finchem and PGA TOUR player Kyle Stanley presented wounded warrior Tyler Steinle with the membership. Steinle suffered several injuries resulting from IED blasts in 2009 and 2010 in Afghanistan while serving in the Army.
In addition, Dell presented laptop computers to 10 wounded warriors, Navy member Daniel Daugherty performed his re-enlistment ceremony, and wounded warrior Brian Sellers was presented with the keys to a mortgage-free home courtesy of the Military Warriors Support Foundation.