A tearful Niemann aiming toward help for month-old relative
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) - A week after Joaquin Niemann missed the Masters because of the coronavirus, his motivation extends well beyond golf to help cousins in Chile with a month-old baby diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder has been .
It was enough to bring Niemann to tears on Saturday at the RSM Classic.
"I just think about him, I love him and his family and they are really nice," said Niemann after taking a full minute to calm down. "I think it's kind of a mission for me to help you."
Niemann had few problems in life. After the Masters in 2018, he turned pro and secured a PGA Tour card in five tournaments. As a 20-year-old, he won last year with a six-shot win at The Greenbrier and last December played in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Last week he learned that Rafita Calderon, the newborn's close relative in Chile, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of spinal muscular atrophy. Most infants with this disorder do not survive early childhood.
The potential cure comes in the form of a new, FDA-cleared gene therapeutic called Zolgensma. However, the one-time infusion costs $ 2.1 million, making it one of the most expensive drugs.
"He needs expensive medication to be able to survive and 100 days to get the medication," said Niemann. '' That is the goal. There have been some cases where they live no more than 2 years. The younger he is, the better it works. ''
Niemann set up a page on Instagram to help raise the money. He has pledged all of his earnings for his last two events of the year, RSM Classic and Mayakoba Golf Classic, along with $ 5,000 or each birdie and $ 10,000 for each eagle. Niemann has 15 birdies in three rounds on Sea Island, even though there are too many bogeys in the mix. He goes into the finals with a tie in 55th place.
He said soccer players in Chile are sharing the news on social media and Niemann is trying to do his part.
"I thought I could be of great help here in the US because there are a lot of people here on tour who are really interested in things like that," said Niemann. "And if I can help Rafita get his medicine, it would be a dream come true for me."
Rafita's father is the cousin of Niemann's mother. Niemann said he grew up with Felipe Calderson during his ascent, who took 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 the coronavirus for 10 days and self-isolated. He is in the Masters this coming April after reaching the Tour Championship for the first time.
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