Walking in Wayne's shadow

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

OK. Sure. You have 24 of the top 25 women's golfers in the world, plus a healthy helping of Hall of Famers here.

But sorry. Invite Wayne Gretzky to join you for the day and they're all just a supporting cast.

Cristie Kerr, obviously one seriously messed-up woman in terms of billing herself as the No. 1 fan of the Phoenix Coyotes, made the mistake of asking coach Gretzky to join her at the Pro-Am for yesterday's CN Canadian Women's Open.

It was predictable how it would work out.

"Thanks for coming to see me, guys," she laughed when she sat down in the packed press interview room.

Kerr won the Canadian stop on the LPGA Tour last year in London, Ont. But with Gretzky with her, it wasn't exactly her victory lap around the 18 holes of the Royal Mayfair.

LARGEST GALLERY

On the other hand, because she was playing with The Great One, she had by far the largest gallery of the day as the two raised $35,000 at the Pro-Am which sponsoring CN matched to make a $70,000 donation to the Stollery Children's Hospital.

Gretzky is Gretzky, the greatest player in the history of hockey who played the prime time years of his career here, breaking most of his records and winning four Stanley Cups here. But the love-in which seems to get even greater as the years go on, made a pretty strong statement in a different direction to No. 99.

Gretzky watched as his old teammate Kevin Lowe - with all sorts of money to spend for the first time in his career as Edmonton Oilers GM - was unable to land a big name free agent.

"It's a bitter loss for those guys who don't want to come here," said Gretzky.

"It's an experience for something very special. Until they come here and see how great it is, they don't get that opportunity. To me, it's their loss.

"I was telling Cristie and her husband on the way up here just how great a city it is and how much she's going to enjoy playing here - about what a great sports city this is.

"For those people who don't have an opportunity to come here and live here, they don't realize and understand just how tremendous it is. It's a wonderful place to be an athlete."

Gretzky said that's why he was here.

"Anytime I can help promote the city and do things for charity here, I'm always willing to come back. When Cristie asked me last year if I would come and play with her in the Pro-Am and she told me the tournament was in Edmonton and it was for the children's hospital, I said I'd love to come.

"And it's not just about Edmonton. As I said to her the other day on the plane flying here, right now she owns North America. She won the U.S. Open and the Canadian Open. So, hey, she's a pretty nice person to play with."

Having Gretzky out there with his 17 handicap was a pretty good lesson for everybody on this already fan-friendly tour.

"I've been around Wayne for the last three days and honestly I've learned from him," said Kerr.

"It's really hard to make people feel like they're special and feel like you get to touch everybody who meets you. There's nobody better at that than him."

It was the first opportunity to get Gretzky on the record about Lowe's highly controversial move to sign Dustin Penner to an offer sheet for $21.25 million US to pry him away from the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks as a restricted free agent.

"Kevin is competitive and he's trying to do what he can do to win.

"He was always that way as a player. He's that way as a general manager. His concern is about the Oilers and about Edmonton. I applaud him," said Gretzky, who along withKerr, had dinner with Lowe Tuesday evening.

"He believes in what he's doing. He's not doing anything against the system or behind the back of anyone.

"And good for him. He's a stand-up guy and he wants to win. More power to him."

And more power to Cristie Kerr, he says. "It's great to have a star from another sport who resides in Phoenix be such a huge hockey fan.

COYOTES FAN

"Cristie is our biggest fan. She comes to a lot of Coyote games and she's a big NHL fan. She enjoys coming. And it's fun that she not only supports the Coyotes but also the NHL. It's so nice that she's around."

Kerr said it just sort of happened.

"I grew up in South Florida and I know that's not the most ideal place to get into hockey. But that was when the Panthers made their Stanley Cup run. I really got into it. I got to know a lot of players.

"I'm friends with Ray Whitney who is housing Juli Inkster here," she said of the Carolina Hurricanes star who was an Oilers' stick boy when Gretzky was an Oiler.

"Hockey players love golf and I think golfers love hockey. It just goes hand in hand."

It did yesterday.


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