Lakers' great Jerry West works to make Northern Trust Open a winner
Lakers great Jerry West is in a forever giving mood.
He expressed admiration for Kobe Bryant this past week as Bryant closed in on surpassing West as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer, a feat that became official Monday in the team's 95-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
West is also gearing up for the Northern Trust Open, the next stop on the PGA Tour that begins Thursday at Riviera Country Club, which he says will ultimately result in significant amounts of money going to L.A. charities.
For the last nine months, West has served as the tournament's executive director in hopes of getting "fans back in record numbers" to a tournament that's been around since 1926. That effort has included endless meetings with business leaders and golfers to spark interest in the tournament. It's resulted in 38 of the 50 top money-winners participating in the Northern Trust Open, including two-time defending champion Phil Mickelson.
"Anytime someone has won it twice, it helps," West said. "He plays the game with a flair. It kind of reminds me of an old Arnold Palmer."
West, 71, put much work in attracting other top candidates. The Daily News' Jill Painter reported in a well-detailed story that some of West's efforts in landing the top players came with a personal touch. He convinced Anthony Kim and Stewart Cink to play the event by offering his personal Lakers seats, and hosted breakfast for Y.E. Yang at Sherwood Country Club.
Having a talent-heavy field, West said, wasn't his main motivation, however. The main reason is the charitable contributions, which include allowing members of the military and their families to attend the event for free, an action that hits home with West, whose brother, David, was killed in the Korean War.
Just recently, West took part in the Play for L.A. charity event, which involved celebrities hitting golf balls in various locations around Los Angeles. That included West chipping a shot through the Hollywood sign and into a Ferris wheel gomdola on the Santa Monica Pier.
"I'm not a horrible golfer," West said. "That didn't look very hard, to be honest with you. If I can embarrass myself out here by doing this and it'll help the people, I'm sure I'm going to do it."
After all, the West Virginia product calls Los Angeles his second home, and he said he remains forever grateful for the community support during his storied career with the Lakers (1960-74).
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Former Lakers great Jerry West is the executive director of the Northern Trust Open, which begins Thursday. Credit: Rob Poetsch / Play for LA Campaign