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Young patients inspire at FedEx St. Jude Classic

Daniel Berger (left) with Calvin and fellow PGA TOUR player Andrew Loupe.

June 8, 2017

By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff

A foot print. On the surface, it’s a simple indention in the sand.

Though deep down, not only is a foot print the most remarkable symbol we can leave behind, but it’s also the most telling tale of where we’ve come from and what we can do.

A foot print is an inspiration, an encouragement. It’s an invitation not to follow, but to instead leave a mark of your own.

And, while that initial step may be difficult to make, it’s never impossible. A foot print can also never be wiped away.

And, nowhere are the trails of those tracks more profound and prevalent than within the environs of the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Each year, PGA TOUR players take pause from their practice to visit patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Some go in groups. Others go alone. Regardless, as golf’s greatest carve out their niche on the course, the annual sojourns reveal to them the tracks of those who’ve faced the toughest time leaving a mark. Those marks, though, are there. And, they’re the deepest, most true foot prints to be found.

Where there are challenges, there is charge. Where there are obstacles, there is fight. From charge and fight, there emerges hope and light. Again, a foot print is an inspiration, an encouragement. A foot print is a glimpse into the determination of a soul.

“Coming to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is really mind opening to see what other people are going through,” said three-time PGA TOUR champion D.A. Points. “We can so easily get lost in our own little bubble, thinking about ourselves all the time with golf. But, to see what these kids and their families are going through really draws me back in.”

“To be a champion of the FedEx St. Jude Classic means a lot because of what we are playing for. It’s not just a golf tournament. It’s to give back to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” said defending champion Daniel Berger. “That place is such an important part in so many kids’ lives. They treat so many kids without having parents worry about making any payments, but to be able to focus on getting them better. That’s what is really important to me.”

“Hopefully, we can bring a little brightness to their day,” Points said. “I met a family from the town right next to where I grew up. So, seeing how they had to travel here all the way from Illinois to get their son treated is special. Getting to know them and their families is truly special.”

“To go to the Hospital is really special,” said Berger, who was among those who visited the Hospital Tuesday. “It doesn’t feel like a hospital. It feels like much more of a happy place. It puts into perspective what we are able to do with the platform we have of being able to play on the PGA TOUR and to give back to so many people that need it.”

On Wednesday, patients from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital left their marks in the form of colors and creations at the annual art party at TPC Southwind.

“It was such a great experience to be with the kids at the art show,” said Alicia Malnati, PGA TOUR Wives Association member and wife of TOUR player Peter Malnati. “We had such a great turnout. We did face painting and drew pictures. We were silly and goofy and got to watch some golf. Some of the pictures we drew might make it onto caddie bibs next year. What a great partnership, a great event, a great outing. Giving back to kids just feels right. It’s an easy partnership to get behind. It makes you feel really good to see the kids relaxing and having fun and forgetting about the inside of their hospital room for a little while. This gave them a chance to get out and feel surrounded by people who care about them a lot and are supporting them.”

Purple Eagle plane dedication

Every year since 2012, FedEx has named a Cessna Caravan plane after a patient of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The “Purple Eagle” honorees are the sons and daughters of FedEx employees.

In front of a crowd Wednesday afternoon at this year’s dedication at TPC Southwind, Bill West, Jr., vice president of Supplemental Air Operations for FedEx illuminated with words the foot prints made by past honorees. Foot prints not only serve as where one has been, but where one is going. Each past honoree, despite their uphill fights, is going, growing and rising above.

This year’s honoree, Calvin, began experiencing excruciating headaches last July, followed by bouts of sickness. Ultimately, scans revealed a mass on his brain. While not cancerous, it was a very aggressive tumor. He underwent two surgeries in his home state of California, but his journey landed him in Memphis, where he began follow-up treatments at St. Jude Children’s Research hospital. There, he underwent two additional surgeries to relieve pressure on his brain. This was followed by six weeks of proton radiation therapy. Recently, he wrapped up treatment and now comes only for check-ups every three months. Calvin’s greatest passion is tending to the well-being of his 90-year-old grandmother.

Since being honored in 2016, Alyssa de Jong has been busy writing her sun safety comic book, giving all proceeds to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Tyler West, the 2015 honoree, was away at Boy Scout Camp this week after having recently earned a purple belt in karate.

2014 honoree Allie Allen has since graduated from two high schools, the St. Jude High School and Houston High School in Germantown. She is headed to Ole Miss in the fall.

Hayes Brown, the 2013 honoree spends a lot of time fishing and hunting. Last December, he led his family in the St. Jude 5K road race.

2012 honoree McKaylee Borklund just graduated from the third grade and couldn’t be on site Wednesday. Like a foot print, the message she sent to the crowd was simple, yet profound; “Hi.”

“These individuals comprise a very illustrious group, one defined by amazing feats, unique talents and tales of perseverance to never cease to amaze,” West said.

“Those are those special moments for those of us blessed enough with the health to have them take for granted,” said Richard Shadyac, Jr., CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “The kids at St. Jude don’t take those moments for granted. Those are special, special times in their lives. That’s what the support of the public allows. They allow St. Jude Research Hospital to make these moments happen, to make sure these kids have the opportunities to live out their dreams.”

And, they’re dreams that started with a foot print. Some may not have been the easiest step to make, but whether the marks reached an early end or continue today, by virtue of a foot print, a dream was realized.

That’s the resonating victory that, year after year, defines all of what the FedEx St. Jude Classic is comprised of. 

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