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PGA TOUR players bring their game to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Dustin Johnson helps a young St. Jude patient with her putting.
(photo: Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

June 6, 2013

By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff

MEMPHIS, Tenn.-  At 6’4’’, Dustin Johnson spends a lot of time looking down. On Tuesday afternoon, however, the defending FedEx St. Jude Classic champion got exceptionally low to the ground. He was bending, kneeling, sitting even.

Johnson, along with fellow PGA TOUR players D.A. Points, Casey Wittenberg, Branden Grace and Robert Streb, took time out from practicing at TPC Southwind to bring their game, and a bit of sunshine, to the young patients of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Casey Wittenberg colors with patient.
(photo: Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

They’re called St. Jude Moments. They might last seconds, maybe hours. The collective goal of a St. Jude Moment, however, is to bring about a lifetime. They are the irreplaceable moments when a child’s smile cannot be contained, when the head momentarily lets go of the problems at hand and the heart looks towards a well-deserved, long future.

Johnson spent a lot of time bending down Tuesday, only to rise up to the spirit of his surroundings.

“We’re here to support the children of this hospital,” said Johnson. “To help ease the rough spots of their day by just sitting here and laughing with them. It’s so nice to come out and see them smiling and having a good time. They’ve really been through a lot, so I know it means a lot to them.”

The kids and families of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have been through a lot, a battle that continues for most. Theirs is a reality where there really are no easy fixes or magic words to make the physical and emotional pain disappear. A visit from a PGA TOUR player doesn’t kill cancer, but it does lend support to the notion that love still lightens the dark side of a day.

“These kids are dealing with some of the most difficult diseases anyone can imagine,” said St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital CEO Richard Shadyac, Jr. “Today is an opportunity for them to just play and have fun and get their mind off what they’re going through for a little while. It’s an opportunity for the kids to interact with some of their heroes. It’s an opportunity for kids to be kids.”

“It’s phenomenal for us to be able come down and give them a glimpse of excitement during their stay here,” said Memphis native and PGA TOUR member Casey Wittenberg.“Any kind of visit puts smiles on these kids’ faces. Smiles are contagious. It really gives perspective. We’re blessed to be able to do what we do. To be able to come down here and spend some time with these kids is an extension of that blessing.”

In arenas as these, it becomes easy to see the world as a level playing field. There is no looking down, only looking eye to eye.

“It gives a great perspective to what matters,” Johnson said. “There’s so much more to life. A lot of these kids are struggling. It really makes you humble.”

When two people can see eye to eye, relationships are everlasting. Another relationship tantamount to the mission of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been its relationship with FedEx and the event for which it’s named.

“We’ve raised over 26 million as a result of this tournament, which is spectacular,” said Shadyac. “But the dollars and cents only tell part of the story. It’s the awareness that’s been created. This gives us a global platform to speak of the hospital’s mission. We are the leader in finding cures and saving lives of kids with catastrophic diseases like cancer. Our relationship with FedEx and this tournament has proved priceless to that mission.”

At the end of the afternoon, it was noted that some of the children were too sick be allowed off their upstairs floor. As he did last year, Johnson was among those who went up to visit.In a surreal moment hard to describe, Johnson sat on the floor, legs crossed. There was no looking down. He was eye to eye with one in a world where every life matters the same. Sometimes, a St. Jude Moments cannot be described.

“I think this is a sacred place,” said Shadyac. “It’s a place where families of the sickest kids come to find hope.We don’t give up on kids. We’re going to do what it takes to get kids better. “

Whether they returned to the reality of their condition or the reality of their jobs, it’s all the same when hope can be seen for what it is. Hope is anything but naïve, and always willing to meet a man, woman or child head on. Hope looks down on no one.

“All you have to do is look around this room at all these smiling faces,” noted Shadyac. ”It just doesn’t get any better than that.”

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