May 11, 2011
By Michael Curet, Special to Together, Anything's Possible
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—If Graeme McDowell wasn’t already at the top of the list of favorite golfers for 12-year-old Michael DeVries, he is now.
The reigning U.S. Open champion surprised the aspiring young golfer by inviting him to hit balls with him on the driving range—part of a week-long VIP experience at THE PLAYERS Championship made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation created by the PGA TOUR for families of children undergoing life-threatening illnesses.
When he was five, doctors diagnosed DeVries with the rare liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis, which usually results in the need for a transplant later in life. In DeVries’ case, however, the need came sooner.
In 2008, the disease progressed quickly, and a match was found for a transplant. The operation was successful, and aside from minor complications DeVries is a relatively healthy seventh-grader.
It was his hospital nurse who initially nominated DeVries for Make-A-Wish.
“When I first told him he got a wish, he said he wanted a dog,” said his mother, Ann DeVries. “I told him you need to think bigger.”
His wish to experience THE PLAYERS Championship was granted, but there was another well-kept secret in the Make-A-Wish experience that was yet to come.
DeVries and his family had checked into the Marriott Resort and Spa adjacent to TPC Sawgrass a day earlier, receiving red carpet-like treatment on the course Tuesday—including breakfast in the Commissioner’s Hospitality area, a private PGA TOUR Academy lesson and lunch in the player dining area. After attending McDowell’s pre-tournament press conference in the media center, McDowell made his way to DeVries and let the cat out of the bag.
“How would you like to go to the range with me and hit some balls?” asked McDowell. DeVries’ ear-to-ear smile obviously meant yes.
Once on the range, McDowell took a 9-iron out of his bag and joked, “If your swing is better than mine, it could be a problem.” He then watched DeVries, a lefthander with a 22-handicap, smoothly hit a 6-iron down the middle with a slight draw.
Within minutes, McDowell had DeVries shaping shots, hitting low and high balls with more finding the target than not.
“This is at the top for me,” said DeVries, who admits that the Make-A-Wish experience surpasses his previously best day—a tour of the Chicago White Sox clubhouse and meeting major leaguer Paul Konerko.
Tuesday afternoon’s 35-minute range session ended with McDowell pretending to be a golf announcer and calling DeVries’ final shot of the day:
“It’s the 18th hole of the THE PLAYERS Championship. Michael DeVries has a one-shot lead. He’s got about a 6-iron.What a shot! It’s all over!”
There was no way to tell who was having the most fun at this point, McDowell or the 12-year-old from Western Springs, Ill.
McDowell, with a glow in his eyes, said, “When you meet someone like Michael with the attitude for life that he has, it makes you quite humble. It’s great to be able to spend a bit of time with him and hopefully inspire him the way he inspires me. I appreciate the opportunity the PGA TOUR gives us. I hope the players embrace opportunities like this.”
DeVries’ Make-A-Wish experience continues all week. It includes an inside-the-ropes visit to the par-3 17th hole during the annual Caddie Challenge on Wednesday and a private meeting with Darius Rucker later in the afternoon prior to Rucker’s Military Appreciation Day concert. By the time the tournament officially starts Thursday, DeVries will likely be found in a gallery following a golfer named McDowell.
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