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As Caves Valley celebrates PGA Tour’s BMW Championship, scholarship program for young caddies takes center stage

Three-time PGA Tour major champion Jordan Spieth and baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. might have been the headliners of the BMW Championship media day at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills on Monday, but Samantha Lannon outshone both.

Lannon, a 21-year-old Timonium resident and Dulaney graduate, received in 2017 an Evans Scholarship, an award that covers the tuition and housing costs for young caddies in need. Lannon, who had caddied at Baltimore Country Club since she was a 15-year-old sophomore, graduated in May from Ohio State with a bachelor’s in zoology and will attend Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

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“The Evans Scholarship meant that I could attend my dream school without incurring student debt. I remembers tears immediately flowing from my eyes and hugging my sister the second that I read that letter with the realization that I would get the college education I always dreamed of,” Lannon said before breaking down. “Sorry I’m tearing up. It just has had a really big impact in my life.”

Steven Fader, president and chairman of Caves Valley Golf who followed Lannon, chided Tom Riford, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce, who had bemoaned following Ripken earlier.

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“I would rather have to [bat] clean-up behind Cal than clean-up behind Samantha,” Fader quipped.

Two months before the first PGA Tour event in the Baltimore area since 1962, when Doug Ford won the last Eastern Open Invitational at Mt. Pleasant Municipal Golf Club in Baltimore, dignitaries from state and Baltimore County and the Western Golf Association, which runs the tournament, congregated to celebrate the BMW Championship, held Aug. 24-29.

“We are so excited to show off all that we have to offer here,” Baltimore County executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said. “It has been such a hard year for all of us, and events like the BMW Championship are just the ticket we need right now to safely have fun and enjoy good food, great views, and of course the best golf in the world.”

From left, Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. poses with three winners of the Evans Scholarship — Becca Lannon, her sister Samantha Lannon and Varada Maulkhan — alongside WGA Chairman Kevin Bugg at media day for the BMW Championship that will be held at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills on Aug. 24-29.
From left, Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. poses with three winners of the Evans Scholarship — Becca Lannon, her sister Samantha Lannon and Varada Maulkhan — alongside WGA Chairman Kevin Bugg at media day for the BMW Championship that will be held at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills on Aug. 24-29. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Interest in the tournament has been strong. A few weeks ago, the Western Golf Association announced that ticket sales were pacing about 40% higher than those from the 2019 event at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois. That tournament drew more than 130,000 people from 44 states and three countries.

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Riford noted that the 2019 BMW Championship generated $20 million in direct spending, $4 million in food and beverage sales, $3 million in lodging and $1.7 million in state taxes. He pointed out that youth, amateur, college, semi-professional and professional sports draw an additional $1 billion in direct spending in the state.

“The economic impact of tourism in this state is incredible,” he said. “It’s been called a critical industry and arguably the fourth-largest industry in our state. In the last complete year of measurement pre-COVID, visitors spent $18.6 billion here in Maryland.”

That revenue will support the Evans Scholars Foundation, which was established in 1930 by the Western Golf Association and amateur golfer Charles “Chick” Evans Jr. and has provided college funding for more than 11,000 caddies. The 2019 year was the first in which 1,000 students were enrolled in college while on the scholarship.

Outside of the Midwest where the Western Golf Association has situated the BMW Championship in the Chicago area every other year since 2011, the foundation’s reputation is still growing. Lannon said she only found out about the scholarship from members at Baltimore Country Club and Caves Valley.

The 18th hole at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills is prepared for the PGA Tour's BMW Championship on Aug. 24-29.
The 18th hole at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills is prepared for the PGA Tour's BMW Championship on Aug. 24-29. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Varada Maulkhan, an 18-year-old resident and graduate of Catonsville, will attend Maryland this fall planning to major in secondary education and history thanks to the Evans Scholarship. When she received in February an envelope congratulating her for receiving the award, she and her father mistakenly thought it contained her new credit card.

“I kind of stopped and stared,” said Maulkhan, who has been playing golf for 11 years, including for the Comets, and has been caddying at Baltimore Country Club and Caves Valley. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ My mom, she’s working from home right now, and she looked up and was like, ‘What? What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘It’s the Evans Scholarship.’ So she stopped what she was doing, and she ended up calling my dad.”

The scholarship has been a godsend. Maulkhan said without it, she would have taken a gap year to work and apply for scholarships and loans to enroll somewhere in September 2022. Lannon said she would have abandoned attending Ohio State for Maryland.

“I would have for sure had student loans,” she said. “So it’s huge that I was able to not have student loans. Now that I have vet school ahead of me, that’s another expense, and it’s even bigger that I get to start off with a blank slate and am not already in the negative.”

Lannon’s younger sister, Becca, an 18-year-old Dulaney graduate, also earned the Evans Scholarship and is leaning towards majoring in environmental science at Maryland this fall. She said she was inspired by her older sister’s experiences as an Evans Scholar.

“I’ve looked up to her my whole life,” Becca Lannon said. “I always wanted to play all the sports that she played and do all the things that she did. We have a brother, too, but I was always much closer to her. It’s definitely cool.”

Spieth, who ranks sixth among the money leaders and 22nd in the world, drained a hole-in-one at the 2015 BMW Championship and thought he had won a new car. But when he found out that his ace had funded a full scholarship, he said that feeling was even more gratifying.

“I’ve met a number of different people in the business world now that were Evans scholars and benefited from that support,” Spieth said. “I think it’s incredible, and BMW’s support with some of those, with hole-in-ones or whatever it may be through the tournament, it seems like a no-brainer. It’s amazing how it’s changed so many lives over so many years. These are people now that were caddying when they were my age at the Western Am. … They end up staying in that Midwest area, so you run into them and say, ‘Hey, I was an Evans scholar. I remember meeting you here or there,’ and you hear their story, and they wouldn’t have been able to do that without that support.”

The Evans Scholars Foundation has served as a catalyst for Ripken and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation he runs in honor of his late father.

“We try to get in front of kids and get them a positive opportunity and match them up with mentors just to help them, but we’re at a point now where we’re looking at, how do we help them in a deeper way?” he said. “That means getting them through high school and getting them to graduate high school, but then what about the next phase? What about scholarships? So we’re thinking about scholarships now and to see a scholarship program in place and knowing what that does for those kids, I think it’s fantastic.”

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BMW Championship

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Caves Valley Golf Club, Owings Mills

Aug. 24-29 (first round begins Aug. 26)

Purse: $9,500,000

TV: Golf Channel, Chs. 11, 4

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