The Funk-Zitiello Foundation launched the first annual Champions for Hope Gala & Golf Classic at TPC Sawgrass, home of THE PLAYERS, on June 16 and 17. The charity gala and golf tournament, which raised $881,000, will benefit two important causes in our Northeast Florida community– The JT Townsend Foundation and a grant to fund important pancreatic cancer research through the Mayo Clinic.
Foundation director and former JT Townsend board chair Judi Zitiello is a three-year pancreatic cancer survivor and this event is truly a personal journey for her.
“I truly believe God gave me this time to make a difference. I choose to keep going in honor of all the champions who are no longer with us and all those in the fight of their lives. Thank you for partnering with us and giving hope to those who need it most,” said Zitiello.
The weekend kicked off on Friday afternoon with a roundtable discussion at Mayo Clinic, featuring a team of doctors, researchers and clinicians at Mayo Clinic, the Champions For Hope Golf Event Team, and JT Townsend Foundation Board of Directors.
A team of doctors from Mayo discussed exciting and promising projects to support early detection of pancreatic cancer. Dr. Horacio Asbun, Chair of General Surgery, Mayo Clinic helped to lead the discussion and commented, “It is time to strongly promote public awareness about this disease in order to be able to raise funds for research, and make progress equivalent to the progress made for other types of cancers. The proceeds raised from the Champions for Hope weekend will be critical in the advancement of research towards early detection of pancreatic cancer,” added Dr. Asbun.
The Champions for Hope weekend included a Friday evening Gala, hosted at TPC Sawgrass. A dinner silent and live auction, and performance by the Chris Thomas Band made for the perfect evening. Over two hundred guests attended the Gala, and more than a dozen local celebrities attended over the weekend, including 2005 PLAYERS champion Fred Funk, Dave Caldwell, Doug Marrone, Blake Bortles, Mark Brunell, Curtis Dvorak, Mike Goodes, Jeff Klauk, Blaine McCallister, Dan Nevins and many more.
For co-host Funk, this event was personal. “Being part of this day was magical; working side by side with long time friend, Tommy Zitiello, their event team of more than 80 volunteers was incredible. To top the event off by hitting a hole in one on the island 17 hole, will forever be a special memory to last a lifetime. I am honored to be a part of this event and to help others in our Northeast Florida community,” said Funk.
Funk spent the entire day on the Stadium course’s famed 17th hole, greeting each foursome that came through with a hearty handshake and a friendly challenge to beat his shot at the green. He just happened to hit his first-ever ace on the island green as Tommy Zitiello’s group came to the hole.