PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – For Joaquin Niemann’s 1-month-old cousin, life could hinge on whether $2.1 million is raised within three months. A surreal but true statement.
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Niemann has committed his Mayakoba Golf Classic presented by UNIFIN paycheck in support of cousin Rafita Calderon, who has been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy.
The disease is treated by “the most expensive medicine ever,” said Niemann – a drug called Zolgensma – which must be administered within the first 100 days of a baby’s life to be most effective.
This week, fellow pros are wearing ivory ribbons in support of Calderon, and Niemann is finding “special” inspiration in playing for a cause greater than himself.
The 22-year-old Chilean opened the Mayakoba Golf Classic in 5-under 66, one off the lead in blustery Thursday conditions at El Camaleon GC.
For Niemann, a high finish in Mexico would go a long way in bolstering his young cousin’s fight. In his last start (The RSM Classic), he donated $152,450 – a combination of $5,000 per birdie, $10,000 per eagle, and his winner’s check.
Fellow pros, family and friends have also donated to a GoFundMe page organized by Niemann, titled ‘#SalvemosARafita – 100 days for Zolgensma.’ The hashtag translates to ‘Let’s Save Rafita.’
“It’s always extra motivation trying to play for him and get some more money for him,” said Niemann after completing his final seven holes Thursday in 5-under. (The support) is big for me and for my family in Chile. Having all the support from all the people here on TOUR is really amazing, and also from Mexico.
“The tournament, they’re helping me a lot to tell a little bit more of the story of Rafita, and I’m happy for all the support of the players. We’re fighting for him.”
Last week, Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz played nine holes with Mayakoba Golf Classic organizers, leading to a pro-am fundraiser on the picturesque par-3 fourth at El Camaleon. An island green was created between the tee box and green, and the tournament raised more than $2,500 toward Niemann’s fundraising efforts.
This will supplement GoFundMe donations ($120,000 and counting) and Niemann’s pledges via his play.
Opening-round leader Russell Knox sported an ivory ribbon on Thursday, as did Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Sebastian Munoz, Marc Leishman and many more.
Source: PGA tour