Anna Earl likes to say her father will cry even while watching a tire commercial, but maybe he’s just had a lot of practice. And rest assured his won’t be the only tears as Anna is given the Nicklaus Youth Spirit Award at this week’s Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
It’s that kind of story.
Barbara Nicklaus, who with 73-time PGA TOUR winner Jack is the driving force of the award, calls it “an annual highlight” for them both. “We always look forward to hearing the stories behind the smiling faces of these children,” she says. “Some are tragic, but through the efforts of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the perseverance of that boy or girl, and the unwavering support of their families, we get to share stories with happy endings.”
Adds Jack, who with Barbara started the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation and the Play Yellow campaign to support children and children’s hospitals: “I can be a sentimental guy at times, a softie, but when you meet these Patient Champions or hear the stories of what our Nicklaus Youth Spirit Award winners have battled and overcome, well, if it doesn’t get to you, there is something wrong with you. When we see the impact the Foundation and these other efforts are having on children, it’s far more important than any 4-foot putt.”
Each year at the Memorial, Jack and Barbara, along with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and tournament officials at Muirfield Village, celebrate a roster of Patient Champions. They are kids who through perseverance and premier pediatric medical care have overcome long odds just to live their lives, but in many cases have done much more. Among them, Jack and Barbara choose one whose story is so remarkable that it simply must be celebrated.
That’s the Nicklaus Youth Spirit Award, and Anna Earl will be the 10th annual recipient.
Golf as a refuge
She was born prematurely at just 29 weeks, and parents Micheal and Michelle were told she had cerebral palsy. Any type of physical activity was going to be hard, so much so that as a young child, Anna — before any sort of competition — would preface it with, “It’s OK, Dad, I know I’m going to finish last.” She wore braces on her legs like Forrest Gump.
“I got a lot of, ‘Run, Anna, run!’” she says in a recent phone interview that also included her dad.
When she was 7, golf became a refuge even though her coach says she was so tiny and weak that she could barely pick up the club, much less advance the ball.
“You always saw the big smile – she wasn’t going to let anything get in her way,” says Scott Davidson, the head pro at Carkersburg Country Club in Carkersburg, West Virginia, about two hours from Columbus. “They got her involved in the First Tee program, and sometimes she’d have to throw the ball to get it to move. But she kept going and kept going and kept going.”
At age 8 she entered the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, and dad Micheal said he wasn’t sure how it was going to go. As it turned out, there were no other contestants in the first round, but she still wore her first-place ribbon with pride, never having won anything before. Before long she was beating some of the older, bigger girls, and then some of the older, bigger boys. (West Virginia prep golf is coed.) Davidson kept thinking he and Anna’s parents would have to write a letter to petition for her to take a cart. Anna kept walking.
Source: PGA tour