Brought together by an auction for sponsorship on ebay, Misys Healthcare Systems of Raleigh and young pro Sal Spallone are teaming up at the US Open this week at Pinehurst.

Marc Winchester, senior vice president of market development at Misys Healthcare who doesn’t play golf, and Spallone, a 27-year-old fighting to make a living on the PGA Tour, share the same dream – Spallone winning one of golf’s premier “majors”.

Winchester almost sounds like NBC announcer Dan Hicks as he mimics what could happen on Sunday in the final round.

“We have the opportunity here to have the announcer saying on national TV ‘Here coming to the 18th green with a chance to win the US Open is Sal Spallone who was unable to pay his own way here and his sponsor is Misys Healthcare Systems,” Winchester said excitedly. “Who knows what will happen. John Daly won the US Open when he was an unknown!”

Having seen a story in The News & Observer last week about Spallone wanting to auction a sponsorship for the US Open on ebay, Misys Healthcare management jumped in to the bidding.

“Reading this guy’s story about how he’s driven all these miles (55,000 in eight months), supporting himself — he’s obviously a very good golfer who needed a break,” Winchester said. Spallone, a Florida native who played collegiate golf at Texas Christian University, qualified for the Open for the first time this year. He’s played on various tours since turning pro in 2001. As an amateur, he won four American Junior Golf Association events in one year — a record he shares with PGA stars Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity and Misys stepping in as my sponsor,” Spallone said in a statement. “Just getting to the Open has been exciting for me, making this sponsorship icing on the cake that I never expected. It really makes me feel like one of the guys out there.”

The auction was set up by Octagon, a sports marketing firm that had sole two other sponsorships earlier in the season.

“I had heard of Octagon,” Winchester said, “so I knew this was on the up and up.”

Bidding opened at $5,000. Misys Healthcare won the right to sponsor Spallone for $7,600. Their logo will be on Spallone’s golf shirt — and Winchester hopes to see it splashed all over NBC’s broadcast.

“We have a lady here who is quite experienced on ebay, so we got on there,” Winchester recalled. “This is a first for us — the first time we have bought something on ebay and the first golfer we have sponsored. We’re pretty excited about this.

“We didn’t set a final figure on how high we would go on the auction, but we believe we did well for both us and Sal. We’re taking a lot of clients to the Open, too. This is good to do something locally and is also good for our brand.”

The press release about winning the auction has also generated a lot of media interest, Winchester noted. That’s advertising companies can’t buy. Misys Healthcare also receives some rights to use Sal’s image for its own promotional efforts.

Corporate execs will meet Sal in person on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Then they will follow the first 36 holes as Spallone attempts to make the cut. He tees off Thursday afternoon at 2:16.
By late Sunday, the Misys crew hopes Spallone will be completing a rags-to-riches story.

“If he wins,” Winchester said, “that would be an incredible story.”

For Spallone — and Misys Healthcare.