It was a small item overlooked in all the details about the emphatic victory by Dustin Johnson (TaylorMade TP5x) in the FedExCup/Tour Championship, but in the context of athletes giving back it might have been the biggest of all.
A year ago, Johnson met a nine-year-old girl named Megan Moore, who was battling leukemia, and invited her and her twin brother to walk with him for a portion of his practice round at the Northern Trust.
In August, Megan, who is nicknamed Mighty Meg, rang the bell to indicate she was cancer free. Around that same time, Johnson sent her a message that he was going to try to win the FedExCup for her. Well, as we all know he came through, winning by three strokes with a score of 20-under par. Johnson had privately said to family members he wanted to win the tournament – his father-in-law is hockey great Wayne Gretzky – more for himself and how he is trying to elevate his game. Clearly, he has done that since the tour restarted in June following a 91-day layoff caused by the coronavirus. Full marks to him and his consistency.
The story of Johnson and Meg was told as part of CBS’ coverage of the Tour Championship and it included a message from the young girl about persevering through her struggles: “Just be brave and keep pushing through and eventually all this stuff is not going to hurt anymore.”
The story reminded me of the one involving the St. Louis Blues and their remarkable run that saw them dead last o the 31 teams in the National Hockey League in January, 2019 – basically the halfway point of the 2018-19 season – and somehow turn their fortunes around and go on to win the Stanley Cup. It was the franchise’s first Cup since entering the NHL in the 1967-68 season.
A sidebar to the story was how some of the Blues’ players embraced 11-year-old St. Louis superfan, Laila Anderson, battling an extremely rare life-threatening autoimmune disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. When the Blues cemented their win in Boston in the final game of the best-of-seven series against the Bruins, Laila was in attendance. And when the Cup was passed around on the ice afterward by the victorious team to family members, Laila was allowed to celebrate with them. It was capped off by defenseman Colton Parayko handing Laila the Cup. The team subsequently gave her a Stanley Cup ring.
The Blues bowed out early in the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, but nothing can replace the feel-good story they created last year for a young girl, similar to what Johnson did this year.
I’ve always said, sport is the greatest reality show of all.
THE XAND MAN WAS CLOSE: I am unabashed in my admiration for Xander Schauffele (Callaway Chrome Soft X), whom I think is on the cusp of winning a major and/or Tour Championship at some point.
He gave it a gallant try this year, starting off seven strokes behind Johnson in the Tour Championship and finishing three strokes behind, tied with Justin Thomas (Titleist Pro V1x). At one point, Schauffele was only two back. To put that in perspective, Schauffele played the four rounds in 14-under par compared to Johnson, who was 10-under par. Moreover, Schauffele had the lowest cumulative score of any of the players in the field of 30. Thomas played the four rounds in 10-under par. Schauffele placed second in last year’s Tour Championship, starting six shots behind Thomas. Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x) won it starting five shots behind Thomas and carding 13-under over the four days.
I’m not crazy about the PGA and the system it implemented last year for the FedExCup playoffs, in particular the final event, rewarding the players with the most cumulative points. I’m not sure what the solution is, but with the level of competition it is really hard to make up considerable ground, though McIlroy proved last year it can be done. I hope the format is somehow changed for next year.
This year was an aberration because of the tournaments that were either cancelled or rescheduled.