It’s one thing to claim to be the best, but it’s another to be recognized as the best. Since its inception in 2000, the Thunderbird International Junior has been honored as the AJGA’s Tournament of the Year, Volunteer of the Year and Hospitality of the Year. The tournament co-founders added the biggest award of them all Friday night, as Mike Kennedy and Del Cochran were presented with the Digger Smith Award at the tournament’s welcome dinner.
“This event is really a dream come true,” Kennedy said at the Digger Smith Award Banquet. “This is a group of people who had an idea and try to make it better every year.”
Named after the AJGA’s chairman of the board, the Digger Smith Award has been presented annually since 1991 and praises an AJGA advocate for his/her longtime service and dedication to junior golf.
In 1999, Kennedy and Cochran followed the instructions given by their close friend Phil Mickelson and set out to create the world’s best tournament – both from a standpoint of competition and fun. As a result, players are treated to a tournament experience that includes a glow-in-the-dark putting course, ping pong, air hockey and a players-only dining area.
In addition, the Thunderbird International Junior is a collection of the world’s best juniors. More than 700 players from 31 foreign countries have competed at Grayhawk Golf Club since the tournament began in 2000, including Julieta Granada, Ryo Ishikawa and Anna Nordqvist.
Because The Thunderbirds aim to improve the quality of life in the local communities, the Thunderbird International Junior has adopted similar principles. Each year, players may designate a benefitting charity and The Thunderbirds will donate $1,000 to that charity in the players’ names.
“One of the things that Mike and I are really proud of is the fact that we’ve given more than $220,000 to charities,” Cochran said. “That means that every participant has made a difference and has the opportunity to make a difference in somebody else’s life. If you take nothing else away from this tournament, then we’re happy.”