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PGA TOUR players draw inspiration from young patients during Shriners Hospital Experience

Ben Crane chats with a patient during the fourth annual Shriners Hospital Experience.
(photo by Dustin Turner/PGA TOUR)

November 2, 2017

By Doug Milne, PGA TOUR Staff

Kids in hospitals dream of escaping their situations and having to face their realities. Usually.

On Wednesday night at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, patients from the hospital turned the tables and brought members of the PGA TOUR into their world.

For the fourth straight year, the Shriners Hospital Experience took place at TPC Summerlin, giving TOUR pros a stark glimpse into life as a patient.   

“This came about because we wanted to make the experience more than just having the players walk around and see the different departments,” said Tammy Robbins, Shriners Hospitals Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, Central Region. “We really wanted it to come from the kids, so we turned it into a tour of the hospital from the patients. They gave the players a real experience of what it’s like to be a patient at the Shriners Hospitals for Children.”

On the eve of competition, nearly a dozen TOUR professionals took on such tasks as picking up laundry from the floor, while confined to a wheelchair and tying shoes and opening bags of chips with one hand. Players were outfitted with finger casts to simulate life with a prosthetic arm.

“We had a great time here tonight,” said eight-time PGA TOUR winner Geoff Ogilvy. “We got to meet some of the kids who are and have been patients. They put us through a few stations so we could appreciate how difficult normal life can be with illness and disability. Trying to tie my shoelaces with one hand, well, that was my downfall.”
While there was plenty of laughter and efforts with abysmal results from the players, the goal was to bring the players into their world briefly, as patients were afforded the opportunity to get out of theirs for a while.  

“This was a way for the kids to own the hospital and to make it fun,” said Robbins. “It was supposed to be a little silly, but is also designed to get people out of their comfort zone a little. The players asked questions to the patients, laughed and really got in touch with the kid in them. Everyone loved it.”
 
“Having the opportunity to interact with several of the Shriners’ patients and their ambassadors was an incredible experience,” said 2016 Memorial Tournament winner William McGirt. “More than anything, what sticks with me is how positive their attitudes are. No matter their condition, they are always cheerful and eager to talk to us. I’ve been given the opportunity to spend some time at several of the hospitals and meet numerous patients. No matter the hospital, no matter the condition, the attitudes of the patients never changes. I’ve never met one with a ‘why me’ attitude. I’ve never met one kid looking for sympathy.”

“This is my son’s favorite thing all year, better than his birthday or Christmas,” said Heather Houston, mother of 10-year-old, Mathew. “He looks forward to this week all year. On the way here, he was telling me how he couldn’t wait to interact with the players. And, when he said interact, he made sure we knew that mean talk with them.”

“I love it when they start giving us a hard time from the minute we meet them,” McGirt said. “Last year, I spent time with a patient from here.  I saw him Friday after I missed the cut and he started ribbing me about missing the cut. It was in fun, but it put things in perspective coming from him.”

Though this year’s Shriners Hospital Experience was the first time to put players in actual situations as ordered by the patients themselves, it was the fourth event. The first year, 2014, a few pros were placed in front of a crowd to go through some of the motions which define the daily routines of patients. With each year, it became more interactive and realistic.

“This event continues to grow year after year,” said Adam Sperling, Executive Tournament Director, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “It started as a small event in the back of a hospitality suite at the green at 18. We outgrew that. The support for this event continues to grow, not just with our tournament family, but with the PGA TOUR professionals who are here throughout the week.”

“Now we’re getting everyone in on the experience,” said Robbins. “We feel like the players got a much better understanding of things by actually going through it with the patients. We also want to give people more one-on-one experience with the kids. The kids love being asked questions. Once you meet the kids from the Shriners Hospital, it just makes all the difference in how you feel about the organization.”

“The attitudes of these kids and the smiles all over their faces was remarkable,” Ogilvy said. “It’s very apparent that the Shriners have a huge impact on their patients and families and truly change lives.”

“Golf is how I make my living, but golf is just a game,” McGirt said. “Through this game, we can help raise money for hospitals, but more importantly help groups like the Shriners raise awareness and get their message out. A missed cut doesn’t hurt nearly as bad when you know you are helping the Shriners and their patients.”

At the end of the evening, the players stepped back into their lives, poising themselves for the ensuing task at hand. The patients of the Shriners Hospitals for Children did the same thing. The difference, though, was a more heightened spirit of joy and hope that surrounded the patients, regardless of their realities.    

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