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Jerry West continuing work with Northern Trust Open

February 15, 2011 |  1:10 pm

Hitting the links used to be Jerry West's escape, a worthy outlet to unleash his competitive drive without the surrounding attention that accompanied the Lakers star.

Now it's his way of providing thanks for all that adulation, using his role as executive director of the Northern Trust Open for the second consecutive year to help donate to causes dear to him. The tournament, which begins Thursday at Riviera Country Club, raised $1.5 million for 65 L.A. charities last year, and will continue allowing military personnel and their families to attend the event for free, an initiative dear to West's heart. After all, he still feels the anguish over his brother, David, dying in the Korean War.

It's part of an event-filled week for West, whose statue will be unveiled Thursday at Staples Center for his contributions as the Lakers' second all-time leading scorer, bringing the organization its first championship in 1972 and assembling enough talent to secure seven NBA championships as the Lakers' general manager. And for all the accolades he's received this past year, including induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, West wants to return the favor. Through the Tickets for Charity program, the Northern Trust Open will donate 80% of the proceeds to the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce and 20% to other local charities.

"The city has been awfully good to me," West said of his role with the Northern Trust Open, tickets for which will cost $30 a day and $80 for the week. "I've always felt at a certain age in your life, your life has to change. Mine has changed. I'm in a different place in my life."

That entails becoming consumed with a tournament he hopes to return to higher relevancy on the PGA tour. That effort included endless meetings with business leaders and golfers to spark interest in the tournament, resulting in 38 of the 50 top money-winners participating in last year's Northern Trust Open, including two-time defending champion Phil Mickelson. He will return to the field again, representing 21 of the 30 top money-winners giving it a go this year.

The effort has also yielded challenges. The Northern Trust Open couldn't attract Tiger Woods for the fifth consecutive year. Northern Trust Open General Manager Mike Bone said the tournament wants to increase its charitable giving from $1.5 million to between $6 million and $7 million. And weather forecasts call for showers the entire week. 

"We have one of the best fields and I've seen more enthusiasm for the players meeting the executive director than the other way around," said Bone . "He has his name and reputation and he's putting it on the line for this tournament."

West also has put his competitive instincts on the line. As part of the Play for L.A. campaign, West visited various iconic sites in Los Angeles, including Surfrider Beach in Malibu on Friday, where he two-putted on a ramp off a lifeguard tower. Even if the main motivation entails raising money for the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, the competitive fire hasn't simmered.

"We've always said this is one of the hardest games there is," West said. "It was devised by the devil, by the way. It takes incredible discipline to play this game."

And with West's own discipline, he's taking the necessary steps in creating more buzz around the tournament.

Said West: "I'm hopeful that this event will grow more and more so we can raise significantly more money to give to these local charities and people who have been so supportive of the golf tournament."

--Mark Medina