MEMPHIS — It had come down to one putt on the final hole of the final round at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, and Lucas Glover stopped in his tracks. To the side of TPC Southwind’s 18th green stood 12-year-old Quincy Hankins, a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient from Cordova, Tennessee.
“He doesn’t really realize the magnitude of what’s happening,” Quinton Hankins said laughing as his son waved to the massive gallery.
Memphis played host to yet another nail-biting finish Sunday – a third-straight tournament here needing more than 72 holes to determine the winner. Watching on during the thrilling conclusion, which included a 94-minute weather delay and ended with Glover besting Patrick Cantlay on the first playoff hole, were six representatives for St. Jude.
They were the honorary pin flag caddies at No. 18, an annual treat for the fans that accompanies the final pairings at this tournament. Some patients have done it numerous times. Some did it for the first time Sunday. Most were children, but one was 24 years old. They’re all surviving cancer because of the treatment St. Jude provided.
It’s the best way to highlight the underlying mission of this event for a national television audience, and to see what’s at the other end of St. Jude’s international fundraising efforts.
So right around the time Glover hit his tee shot on No. 14 into the water, setting up a bogey that opened the door for Cantlay to briefly grab the lead, 9-year-old Maelin-Kate had one request for her mother, Megan: “I need a hug.”
She was adopted from China by a family in the Huntsville, Alabama, area almost six years ago. After an initial diagnosis of hip dysplasia when she first arrived, lab tests revealed something far worse. She had Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic blood disorder. She needed St. Jude and St. Jude delivered with the hospital’s first Fanconi anemia bone marrow transplant four years ago.
But then the moment came Sunday, when Maelin-Kate walked out to the green, and blew kisses to the crowd – not nervous at all. She handed bracelets to golfers Tom Kim and Emiliano Grillo. Kim and Grillo each gave her a glove. One had a message: “All my (picture of a heart). Keep it up!! (smiley face).”
This is her second year serving as an honorary pin caddie, and same goes for 9-year-old Azalea.
Maelin-Kate and Azalea decided this week that they’re more than friends now. “They say they’re sisters now, so I’ve got another kid,” Azalea’s father, Ricardo, joked. Azalea and her family moved from Jamaica to Memphis for a year in order to get treatment at St. Jude once she was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue.
“We contacted St. Jude and they just said, ‘How fast can you guys get here?’” Ricardo said.
Now, through bonds built by their appearances together at this tournament, there’s another call to make. Maelin-Kate and Azalea exchanged phone numbers this week in order to Facetime one another moving forward.
Memphis native Mabry Lendstreet also gravitated toward Azalea this week. The 11-year-old, who underwent treatment for leukemia with St. Jude beginning in 2014, doesn’t remember much about serving as a pin caddie last year. Only that she got a signed ball and glove.
“I’m hoping it’s a good golfer this time,” Mabry said.
She got Rory McIlroy and Cantlay. Not bad.
Soon came another Memphis native who had never done this before – 11-year-old Alana Davis – right as Glover found his footing and tied Cantlay at 15-under atop the leaderboard with two holes to play. St. Jude helped Davis after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
So when Max Homa’s caddie handed over the pin for Davis to hold, her mother put her hand to her chest and started tearing up.
“I love that,” Lachaka Davis said under her breath, and it hardly mattered Cantlay had missed a birdie putt that would have given him the outright lead heading into the clubhouse.
Then there was just one group – and one patient – left.
Glover narrowly missed, setting up the playoff. Cantlay hit his tee shot into the water, then missed another putt that would have forced a second playoff hole. Glover had won again, as heartwarming a development as any on the PGA Tour considering, at age 43, it wasn’t long ago the yips threatened to completely derail his career.
And yet, once Glover was handed the trophy, he looked over at those six St. Jude patients once more.
“My heart goes out to those people that are fighting and that are helping the fight, and that’s St. Jude,” he said. “I think one group that needs a round of applause are our honorary pin holders over there. Thanks guys. Nice job. My man Quincy was good luck.”
Quincy gave him two thumbs up back and the two posed with the trophy. Quincy lifted his arms triumphantly in the air and Glover pointed back at him – a photo and partnership that embodies the best of this tournament.