ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Georgia (TBEN) – A week after Joaquin Niemann had to miss the Masters due to the coronavirus, his motivation goes far beyond golf to try to help cousins in Chile with a baby from a month diagnosed with a fatal genetic disease.
It was enough to make Niemann cry on Saturday at the RSM Classic.
“Just thinking of him, I love him and his family, and they’re really nice,” Niemann said after taking a minute to pull himself together. “ I think it’s kind of like a mission for me to help them. ”
Niemann has had few problems in life. He turned pro after the 2018 Masters and earned a PGA Tour card in five tournaments. He won at the age of 20 last year with a six-stroke victory at the Greenbrier and contested the Presidents Cup last December at the Royal Melbourne.
He learned last week that Rafita Calderon, the newborn of close relatives in Chile, had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of spinal muscular atrophy. Most infants with the disorder do not survive to infancy.
The potential cure comes in the form of a new FDA-approved gene therapy drug called Zolgensma. However, the single infusion costs $ 2.1 million, making it one of the more expensive drugs.
“He needs expensive drugs to continue living and 100 days to get the drug,” Niemann said. “That’s the point. There have been cases when they do not live more than 2 years. The younger it is, the better it works. ”
Niemann set up a page on Instagram with the aim of raising funds. He has pledged all of his winnings for his last two events of the year, the RSM Classic and the Mayakoba Golf Classic, as well as $ 5,000 or each birdie and $ 10,000 for each eagle. Niemann has 15 birdies in three rounds at Sea Island, although too many bogeys are in the mix. He entered the final round in a draw for the 55th.
He said soccer players in Chile share the news on social media and Niemann is trying to do his part.
“I thought I could do a lot of help here in the United States because by being here on tour there are a lot of people who are really interested in this stuff,” Niemann said. “ And if I was able to help Rafita get her medicine, it would be a dream for me to come true. ”
Rafita’s father is the cousin of Niemann’s mother. Niemann said he grew up playing golf with Felipe Calderson on his rise which brought him to the Latin American Amateur and his first trip to the Masters as a 19-year-old amateur.
Niemann missed his return to Augusta National last week when he tested positive for coronavirus and self-isolated for 10 days. He is in the Masters next April after reaching the Tour Championship for the first time.