Tuesday, August 14, 2018

All Fore Gracie

There were plenty of storylines regarding the 100th annual PGA Championship, held at Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis. There was Brooks Kopeka winning his second major of the year and third in 14 months. There was the return to form of Tiger Woods, who played like the Tiger of old and nearly caught Kopeka. And there was the swarms of people who invaded the fairways of Bellerive and provided a spark to a city desperately in need of something positive. And that's just a taste of the stories from what was a truly special event.

Flat Gracie thought the PGA trophy was huge!
Flat Gracie checks out the leaderboard.

My focus however was on a small piece of paper adorned with a purple drawing of a princess and two slogans that have been a huge part of my family's life since November 2014. That was when we found out that our daughter Grace, who will be seven on Sept. 7, had a rare genetic disorder called infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy or INAD. It's been a long road since then, with doctor visits, physical therapy and a lot of tears, but it truly has been a Grace-Filled Journey, one of the two aforementioned slogans.

Kyle and Uncle Daniel raising awareness to #beatINAD

The other words on the sign were #BeatINAD, which is more of a rallying cry. Since we learned of Grace's condition, we've raised close to $200,000 for INAD research in hopes of one day curing our little girl. Even if that never happens, we feel truly blessed that our small county of fewer than 30,000 people has shown us such love and support.

Flat Gracie checks out the fairway at Bellerive.

Throngs of golf fans came out to the PGA tournament.
But back to the PGA Championships. Prior to Sunday, I had never been to a PGA event, let alone a major. The closest I had come was covering an LPGA tournament in Springfield, IL, for the newspaper that my beautiful wife Mary and I both work for. That was cool, but Sunday's final round was a different animal entirely.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy
I'm a novice PGA fan at best, so attending the event in person wasn't really on my radar until my brother Daniel texted me that his wife Monica had received four tickets through her job in Columbia, MO. I almost turned them down, Sunday is a busy day for us at the paper, but I thought better of it and made plans to head to Bellerive.

Tommy Fleetwood
You couldn't help but be in awe of the talent of these players. Par is a bad day. Bogeys and doubles are almost unfathomable. For me, it's a miracle if get out of the clubhouse without putting a ball in the water. It was one of the first times that I really understood the passion that golf fans have for the sport.

Michael Lorenzo-Vera
Since neither my brother, nor the other two guys joining us had ever been to a PGA event before, we just wandered around and tried not to look too out of place. Eventually we made it to the first hole, just in time to watch Rory McIlroy, one of the best players in the world. As McIlroy and Michael Lorenzo-Vera made their way down the first fairway, my attention turned to the rolled up paper with the princess on it.

Jordan Speith
Flat Gracie, which we had dubbed the sign, had already made appearances on our vacation to Washington D.C. and Mary's trip to the Superman statue in Metropolis. Similar to the Flat Stanley project that many elementary school students partake in, our thought is that our friends and followers on social media might get a kick out of where Flat Gracie might end up.

Flat Gracie checked out the PGA fans.
That first photo led to dozens more as I took every chance I could to snap Flat Gracie's picture with some of the best golfers in the world, plus a few guys that just seemed cool. In addition to McIllroy and Lorenzo-Vera, I also got Flat Gracie pics while Tommy Fleetwood and Jordan Speith were playing through.

Our new favorite golfer, Branden Grace.
Branden Grace's leaderboard.
My favorite shots though are the ones with Branden Grace, a South African golfer who I didn't know existed until Sunday. I'm not sure if it's God putting these things in front of us or just happenstance, but our lives seem to be filled with links to Grace. It's led us on some amazing adventures and has created some great friendships, like the one with James Beard Award nominee Rick Lewis of St. Louis' Grace Meat+Three restaurant. I'm hoping to reach out to our new favorite golfer on social media, but even if we never connect, it's pretty cool that he and Grace share the name.

Flat Gracie followed golfer Branden Grace.
Branden Grace
 With work looming, I left around 3 p.m. to make my way back to Hillsboro, IL. It was tempting to blow off work, with the roar of Tigermania echoing in the distance, but duty called. After all, I had been to an event that some could only dream of and had made a ton of good memories with my brother and Flat Gracie.

Grace loved her new "Brooks" teddy bear.
Before leaving, I stopped at the pro shop to pick up a few souvenirs for the girls at home, a bear we named "Brooks" in honor of the champ for Grace, a sippy cup for her little sister Charlotte (aka Charley Danger) and a fun pair of socks for Mary with the tournament logo on them. I managed to snag a couple logo golf balls and a Tervis cup for myself as well, just as a reminder of the day.

Daddy's girls and their new souvenirs
Not that I needed one on the way home or that night. My thoughts hovered around how much fun I had at Bellerive and how blessed I am to have that opportunity to go and raise a little awareness for INAD. While we try to give Grace as many experiences as possible, some things, like the tournament, just aren't in the cards. Even if she's not with us in person though, Grace is always in our hearts and on our minds. Everything I do is because of that little girl and like the 100th PGA Championships, being her dad is a once in a lifetime opportunity.


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