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Beyond par for the course

St. Jude patients had the chance to play with pro golfers at the Danny Thomas Pro-Am earlier this summer and came away with plenty of memories.

Thwack went the tee shot. Crack went the tree limb.

It might have been a rough moment off the No. 15 tee for collegiate golfer and former St. Jude patient Zach at TPC Southwind.

But this was the Danny Thomas Pro-Am, where you apparently can count on a little of what someone dubbed “St. Jude magic.” Zach’s errant shot took a charmed bounce and landed some 70 yards from the green, a straight shot to the pin.

But then, it’s not like one bad shot, or a hundred, would have ruined this day for Zach and the other St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patients in the field for the pro-am, which opened FedEx St. Jude Classic week in Memphis.

“For Zach to be down here doing this, it’s a pretty big deal for him,” said his father, Thomas.

“We never knew, what, 15 years ago, 14 years ago, he’d be here,” said his mother, Lisa. “He’s loving it. He’s loving every minute of it.”

tees with logo

The Danny Thomas Pro-Am field featured St. Jude donors, PGA Tour players, two-time major winner John Daly, celebrities such as actor Patrick Warburton – and five players whose names may not have been familiar but whose stories resonate at a tournament that has raised $38 million over the years for St. Jude.

There was Zach, who was diagnosed with an aggressive, non-cancerous brain tumor at age 5. He completed 30 rounds of radiation therapy at St. Jude and returns to the hospital for regular checkups. He’s also a collegiate golfer, having just completed his freshman year.

There was Ally, who in 2013 was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children. She’s completed treatment at St. Jude, which included seven rounds of chemotherapy. She’s also a member of her high school golf team.

DT Pro Am

There was Ben, an Arkansan who completed two-and-a-half years of treatment at St. Jude for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and now is playing high school and junior competitive golf.

And Bradley, also treated for ALL, both at St. Jude and a St. Jude affiliate clinic near his Louisiana home; treatment completed, he recently finished his sophomore year of college and is the philanthropy director for his fraternity. And Jackson, whose St. Jude treatment included multiple surgeries when he was 3; he’s a recent college graduate and engaged to be married.

At the Danny Thomas Pro-Am, they didn’t stand out so much as they fit right in.

It was a beautiful day for golf — sunny, but not quite the kind of temperature that Memphis is known for having in June, with an occasional breeze. Zach’s family reveled in the day's activities. They also reflected on all their son has been through — and what he goes through, still.

“He has no functioning pituitary gland,” Lisa said, “so he’s on hormone replacement for everything. So what our body does naturally his doesn’t do without all the medicine. So he takes medicine three times a day."

tee box

“It’s part of his life. Been part of his life since he was 5. He doesn’t really know any different. Definitely not a typical 19-year-old.”

They talked about Zach in a way you often hear St. Jude patients described – wise beyond their years, more mature than their healthier peers, because they were forced to grow up fast by a life-threatening diagnosis.

It’s how Ally’s parents talked as their daughter played her round.


“They’re young, and a lot of times they don’t know what they’re getting into,” said her father Ken, a CBS Sports executive vice president. “But they know a lot more than you think they do.”

He gestured toward Ally’s doctor, who was there to watch her play in the pro-am, in a group with Richard Shadyac Jr., President and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude.

Her doctor “was very open about everything,” Ken said. “She (Ally) knows everything. As do most of the kids. It makes them tougher. It makes them a lot tougher.”

As he and his wife, Emerald, talked about their daughter’s treatment, their love of St. Jude and their fond memories of Memphis, Ally was out on the fairway doing what she loves – hitting golf balls with that smooth, easy swing of hers.

“You know the small stuff?” Emerald said. “She does not sweat the small stuff.”


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