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Youth benefit earns a million

After making a hole-in-one, tradition calls for the golfer to buy a round of drinks. But the stakes were different here.

Tom Daly aced the 15th hole at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Golf Club and then wrote a check _ for $120,000.

Daly, a Realtor from New York, took part in the second Chi Chi and the Bears Kids Classic Sunday.

Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jack Nicklaus headlined the fund-raiser for Rodriguez's Youth Foundation in Clearwater. Talk-show host Phil Donahue and baseball's Dave Winfield also played.

But Daly stole the spotlight. His contribution pushed the proceeds to $1-million from Sunday's event and an auction Saturday night.

"I told Bill (Hayes, the foundation president) that we would make a million dollars. He said no way," Rodriguez said. "God found a way."

The way was cleared when Daly launched a 6-iron shot to the 15th green, 174 yards away. It bounced once and dropped into the cup.

"That was the most exciting thing in my life," said Daly, who became involved with the foundation after meeting Rodriguez in a pro-am tournament four years ago. "I thought they would make $1-million this year and when I made the hole-in-one, I said, "What the heck.' It's great what they do for the kids here."

What Rodriguez and Hayes have been doing for the past 11 years is leading an organization that has garnered national attention by helping disadvantaged children with school tutoring, golf instruction and an emphasis on role models.

"It's obvious he (Rodriguez) gives a darn. In these times, this is an exemplary thing," said Donahue, who shares the same manager as Rodriguez. "The guy has a lot of values that he brought with him from Puerto Rico."

Rodriguez attracts many with his personality, but the biggest attraction Sunday was probably Nicklaus (the "Bear").

"Jack Nicklaus' name, like Arnie (Palmer), is magic," Rodriguez said. "He brings a lot of love, respect, prestige and, most important, a lot of amateurs, which means money."

Rodriguez passed up a $500,000 Senior PGA Tour event over the weekend because it was Nicklaus' only free date. The two popular golfers headlined the first Kids Classic in Orlando in 1987, netting $802,000.

"Chi Chi asked me to help and I said sure, but I said, "Let's do something significant,'

" said Nicklaus, whose wife, Barbara, also has helped in the fund-raising. "We usually choose two or three (charities) and concentrate our efforts."

In both classics, amateurs paid $10,000 to participate. This year's classic was expected to bring in about $880,000, until Daly made it a cool million.