Joaquin Niemann notched the biggest victory of his young career, and it had nothing to do with his golf clubs.
On Wednesday, Niemann, 22, shared the good news that enough money — more than $2.1 million — was raised through his various efforts so that his cousin, Rafita Calderon, could receive treatment for Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a rare genetic disease that affects about one in every 10,000 babies born every year.
“It’s been amazing the last couple days,” Niemann said on Wednesday ahead of the Genesis Invitational near Los Angeles. “It was amazing to see like the whole Tour, like all the people that supported me, all the companies, it was amazing. We raised so much money in such a short period, it gives us a lot of faith for Rafita.”
Calderon’s father, Felipe, flew to the U.S. to purchase the medicine and brought it back to Chile. Niemann’s cousin is at a medical center in Santiago, five hours from where the family lives, but Niemann said his condition has improved since receiving a one-time injection of Zolgensma, a gene therapy drug, a few days ago.
“Right now he’s doing great,” he said. “They sent me some pictures a couple days ago and he looks stronger, he looks happy.”
Back at the RSM Classic in November, Niemann broke into tears speaking about how his then one-month-old cousin was battling for his life, desperately needing Zolgensma, a drug which according to Niemann costs $2.1 million. When Niemann learned of the tough hand dealt to his young relative, he said, “I was in my mind going crazy, ‘What can I do to help out?’ ”
He set up a Go Fund Me page and pledged $5,000 for every birdie and $10,000 for every eagle in addition to his earnings from that week, which totaled $152,450. He also donated his winnings from the Mayakoba Golf Classic in December, good for another $65,262.85. Niemann nearly won the Sentry Tournament of Champions, losing in a playoff to Harris English, but netting another $782,000, and tied for second a week later at the Sony Open of Hawaii, cashing in for $587,400. (Niemann never stated publicly whether he donated those paychecks to his cousin’s cause.)
Niemann, who is scheduled to tee it up this week at the Genesis Invitational, went home to Chile to see his family and friends in January and has skipped the last four events. Of his initial conversation with his cousin Felipe, Rafita’s father, he said, “He was really negative, like why (does) this happen to me, you know, just being negative. And I was trying to push him to be more positive and I get to help him here in the states, because in Chile, it was really hard to get the $2 million and for me being here getting more connections, you know, social media, all this stuff helps. It was beautiful.”
Beautiful, indeed, and the best news we’ve heard all week.