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Pat LaFontaine turns down Pope Francis before reconsidering

Former New York Islander Pat LaFontaine attended the

Former New York Islander Pat LaFontaine attended the charity golf outing in Middle Island on June 20, 2015. Credit: Randee Daddona

Pat LaFontaine figured Pope Francis would understand. The Hockey Hall of Famer politely declined a once-in-a-lifetime request to be part of a global sports conference at the Vatican because it conflicted with a golf outing benefiting Companions in Courage, his foundation that builds high-tech playrooms in children’s hospitals. It has helped 50,000 pediatric patients throughout the country.

LaFontaine matter-of-factly mentioned the invitation to Jim Johnson, the former Islanders executive who now runs the operations of Companions in Courage. Johnson could not believe his ears.

He recalled his side of the conversation this way: “You told the Pope you couldn’t make it because you had a golf outing? Are you crazy? Why didn’t you just tell him that Wednesday was laundry day? Call them back and tell them you are going!”

Still, the former Islanders-Sabres-Rangers center demurred about joining Pele, Yao Ming and Roger Federer for the “Sport at the Service of Humanity” event Oct. 5-7 because the foundation’s outing was scheduled for Oct. 6. Johnson assured his friend, “We’ll work it out.”

So LaFontaine called Vatican officials and said he could make it to Rome after all. Johnson worked the phones, too. “People at Huntington Country Club and all of our sponsors were amazing,” he said, adding that they agreed to many logistical shifts and rescheduled the outing for Sept. 29. “I think attendance will be strong because everybody wants him to put in a good word with Pope Francis.”

LIGA’s Vergirth can play, too

Not only is Doug Vergith a tireless and eloquent spokesman for the sport in his role as executive director of the Long Island Golf Association, he also is a heck of a player. In the semifinal round of the St. George’s Club championship in Setauket last week, he made a hole-in-one on the 181-yard seventh hole with a 4-hybrid. And that was not even his greatest distinction of the day. The 68-year-old shot better than his age, posting a 67.

Young men going places

Danny Gehrig, representing Garden City Golf Club, won The Keith, the annual caddies tournament at Cherry Valley Club. Organizers said this year’s event drew 106 caddies, mostly from Long Island but also one from Ireland. Gehrig shot 73, one stroke ahead of fellow Garden City Golf Club caddie Roger Finest and Ken Ritchie of Garden City Country Club . . . Faith Francioso, a junior at Wantagh High School who has been on the boys varsity since the seventh grade, will play in the Nature Valley First Tee Open, a PGA Tour Champions event this week at Pebble Beach. Golf Channel will carry it Friday through Sunday evenings.

Update on LI Village Championship

An update on applying to be in the first-ever Long Island Village Championship, to be held Oct. 31 at Lawrence Yacht & Country Club: For an entry form, contact Charlene Cameron at or 516-239-1685, ext. 2111. Each player must provide two forms of proof verifying residency. Every village or hamlet is invited to send one or two foursomes. “Once we get it rolling, I think it will become a huge event,” said Leo McMahon, general manager of the Lawrence club.

Helping those in need

Robert Dow of Miller Place won the PGA Volunteer Challenge at The Barclays. Dow, who served as a marshal, earned a $10,000 check for The First Tee of Metropolitan New York. At each PGA Tour stop, fans (usually family members and friends) vote online for their favorite volunteer and the winner gets a check for his or her chosen cause . . . David Toms finished last at The Barclays, missing the cut at 14 over. He also had a good reason, as well as the right to feel like a champion. Toms had skipped the regular-season finale the previous week — jeopardizing his place in the playoffs and his tour card for next season — because he stayed home to help fellow Louisiana residents recover from massive flooding. A few days after he left Bethpage, he announced that his foundation is raising money to buy school supplies for children displaced by the flood. Donations can be made at

Miniature golf celebration

Boomers Long Island, a miniature golf facility on Long Island Avenue in Medford, is celebrating the 100th anniversary of miniature golf in America with a fundraiser next Saturday and Sunday. It will feature a hole-in-one challenge. Proceeds will go to Give Kids the World Village, a Central Florida resort for seriously ill children.

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