It was a battle for Cullen, but he hit the shot that counted in 'Play It Forward' match
FARGO — For 21 years in the National Hockey League, Matt Cullen knew what to do with the puck when the lights were on at center ice. It was his home away from home that resulted in being a part of three Stanley Cup championship teams and over 1,500 games played.
On the golf course, the feeling isn’t so mutual. It was in late April when he agreed to play in the Bell Presents Play It Forward challenge teaming with Tom Hoge against Amy Olson and Josh Duhamel.
“I thought, man, they have to find somebody better than me,” Cullen said.
The chance to do so much good for charity, of course, easily won out over his hesitancy of playing in front of cameras and a state-wide television audience. Cullen had his share of duffs but he also hit the key shot that may have won the match.
A chip to within a couple of feet on the 17th hole at the Fargo Country Club put Cullen and Hoge two shots up on Olson and Duhamel in the best-ball format. The two teams halved No. 18 giving Hoge-Cullen a two-shot victory in a match where the big winner was a consortium of multiple charities that will benefit from a three-week fundraising campaign orchestrated by Bell Bank, Forum Communications Company and Dakota Medical Foundation.
It was net birdie for Cullen since the higher handicap Cullen got a shot advantage on the par-5 hole.
“He’s a great partner to have, things were getting pretty close there down the stretch,” Hoge said. “He’s been in those pressure situations before and he can handle that no problem. It was fun to see him step up and make a few putts when he needed to. You could tell he was nervous off the start but he settled in pretty good there and we had fun out there.”
Cullen was below the hole on the left side, and had to hit a delicate chip to a sloping green that was playing fast. He couldn’t have executed it any better.
“I went into it thinking this is not going to be a perfect round, I haven’t golfed much and it’s a tough course and tough circumstances,” Cullen said on the Saturday morning WDAY Golf Show. “I was hoping to have a little bit of a chance to contribute so Tom didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. So it was good I could chip in a little bit.”
He almost chipped it in. The match was played for charity with each golfer playing for a different entity. Cullen, for instance, played for the North Country Food Bank. Donations to www.dmfhelpinghearts.org will be taken until midnight, May 31.
Cullen and his wife, Bridget, have been a godsend for charitable work over the years with their Cullen Children’s Foundation that most recently donated $1 million for a “Cully’s Kids Cabin” at Sanford Children’s Hospital. The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated another direction with the golf event.
“When you’re given a platform to work with, it makes it easier and so you feel more responsibility to get something done,” Matt Cullen said. “Everybody knows about our foundation but we felt at this point and time the purpose is to help people deal with what is going on in the world right now.”
There was no immediate word on Olson and Duhamel wanting a rematch, at least publicly, but Hoge said he would be all for another similar event with one adjustment: a gallery. This match was played under social distance guidelines because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think a lot of people would want to come out and see an event like that in person and raise money for charities,” he said.