Inspirational. Uplifting. Incredible.
Those words help describe the scenes on the PGA Tour this week at the Shriners Children’s Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas.
They also illustrate the work that Shriners Hospitals does for children all over North America.
For the 17th consecutive year, the PGA Tour has partnered with Shriners Hospitals to stage a tournament that raises capital and brings awareness to pediatric injuries, orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and more.
“What makes it really special is that it gives us a platform to tell our story to a new and diverse audience each year,” said Mel Bower, the Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for Shriners Hospitals, in an exclusive interview with Playing Through.
“It’s not just a tournament in name only. It truly is a Shriners children’s tournament, as our patients are active participants. We are supporting the pro golfers right by their side. Our patients will walk with them inside the ropes, and some will even work as standard bearers.”
Shriners Patients Making a Difference
23 Shriners patients are officially serving as ambassadors at this week’s tournament. Plenty of others are on the grounds to lend support as well.
Many of them are serving as standard bearers—carrying the sign down the fairway displaying the scores throughout the tournament. Others are there to represent Shriners and spread awareness.
One of those ambassadors this week is Juan Diego, a 19-year-old man from Tegiculpga, Honduras. He traveled to Las Vegas this week with his father and uncle, as this is their first time being at the tournament and visiting Nevada.
“Shriners is one of the biggest reasons why I’m Juan Diego today,” he said.
“I’m an independent young man who can carry out a life on a normal basis, you know, with college, personal life, and that kind of stuff. [Shriners] is the reason why I’m here today.”
When Juan Diego was 13 years old, his mother moved into a new apartment in Honduras, which was still under construction.
The new unit was on the third floor and had a large window—that had yet to have glass installed—facing the street.
That open-air window was exposed to high-voltage wires that hung from a light post helping power the city.
“Faster than the blink of an eye, I just felt like all the charge, all the electricity literally going through my body,” Juan Diego explained.
“It was so fast, you don’t have time to react to it. My heart starts rushing really fast, to the point that you feel that your heart is going to explode. And suddenly all the lights turn off, and you just kind of feel like, in this lonely cave all by yourself. Because I was able to hear my mother scream, because of her worry.”
The wires electrocuted his hands, severely damaging his palms and fingers, and leaving both hands disfigured.
Faced with limited medical options in his home country, Juan Diego’s family submitted an application through a Honduran foundation. That foundation had a connection to Shriners Hospitals for Children.
His application was then accepted, and in 2018, he headed to Shriners Children Boston, which specializes in pediatric acute burns.
Over the next few years, Juan Diego spent countless months in New England on and off. He received treatment from specialized doctors and therapists, while also meeting new people.
He still keeps in touch with many individuals, including his occupational therapist (OT).
Juan Diego even sent his OT countless pictures from his experiences at the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas.
He also connected with a fellow patient while in Boston, a girl named Valentina from Venezuela.
“She is my best friend,” Juan Diego said, grinning ear-to-ear while doing so.
His time in Massachusetts also led him to follow American football. He is a big New England Patriots fan, but funny enough, his favorite player to watch is Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
He also enjoys playing soccer, with center defensive back being his favorite position to play.
Yet, his true passion lies in diplomacy and international relations—the major he is currently pursuing in college.
“I want to be a diplomat, an ambassador from Honduras, maybe even a chancellor,” Juan Diego explained. “That’s my plan right now. Mostly to help more people around my country. That’s the big idea.”
That is the ultimate goal of Shriners: to help more young people, just as Juan Diego hopes to do someday.
Simply, Juan Diego defines what it means to be selfless.
He is the perfect emissary for Shriners, and his attitude is infectious. He overcame the unluckiest of circumstances with tremendous obstacles, and he continues to fight every day.
Shriners’ Standard Bearer & Adaptive Golf Clinic
Each year, children from locations around the country are chosen to represent Shriners and act as standard bearers throughout the tournament. This year, 21 such children held that honor, as they walked along the pros holding their scores.
On Friday afternoon, the nonprofit healthcare system then held an Adaptive Golf Clinic at the driving range of TPC Summerlin.
The clinic is put on by the U.S. Adaptive Golf Alliance and provides Shriners patients the opportunity to either play or improve their golf game alongside professionals. That interaction resonates not only with the children, but the players as well.
Lexi Thompson nearly became the first woman in modern PGA Tour history to make the cut. Immediately following her round, she was asked for her initial thoughts.
“Meeting some of the Shriners kids, ambassadors, was probably the highlight… giving golf lessons and just hopefully inspiring them to go after what they want,” she replied.
Thompson’s selflessness is telling not only about her but also what Shriners and this tournament means to so many people.
“This is a super unique PGA Tour golf tournament and one that you don’t see every weekend of the year,” Bowers said.
“As the patients walk alongside the pros inside the ropes, there are sort of two stories being told. The pro golfers are looking to play the best they can. But our patients wanna win too.”
Many of the patients on site this week are fighting battles that are quite foreign to most individuals. But through the PGA Tour, those battles remain with the golfers, caddies, fans, and everyone at the event. It creates a sense of empathy—and appreciation—for all involved.
That is what makes this tournament special.
“They’re overcoming medical challenges,” Bower added.
“Some of them have had things they’ve been fighting since they were born. And so there’s a symbolic victory. It’s happening with every step that gets taken because the golfers are on their pathway, but our patients are right alongside them, and they’re on their own pathway toward living their best life.”
If you happen to be in Las Vegas this weekend and are interested in checking out the 2023 Shriners Children’s Open, you can buy tickets here. Children 18 and younger with a ticketed adult receive one free general admission ticket.
For those who want to watch from home, Golf Channel will air live coverage of the tournament beginning at 5 p.m. ET on each day of play.