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In spite of adversity, Cayden Ingram masters art of playing his ball as it lies

6 Min Read


Tom Coughlin Jay Fund recipient Cayden Ingram holds a PLAYERS pin flag from TPC Sawgrass. (Doug Milne/PGA TOUR)

Tom Coughlin Jay Fund recipient Cayden Ingram holds a PLAYERS pin flag from TPC Sawgrass. (Doug Milne/PGA TOUR)

    Written by Doug Milne @PGATOUR

    Golf legend Bobby Jones once commented “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball as it lies.”

    In 2022, at 12 years old, Cayden Ingram was diagnosed with T-Cell Leukemia. Treatment ensued promptly and, within about four months, the Jacksonville, Florida, area eighth grader’s cancer went into remission.

    Cayden was three treatments away from being done with treatments all together.

    In January of this year, though, he was diagnosed with T-Cell Lymphoma. It was classified as a cancer relapse.

    Not only did that mean Cayden would have to continue with his treatments, but the St. Johns Country Day School Spartan is now scheduled for a bone marrow transplant in May. Just last fall, he was an integral part of the Spartans golf team; a sport he loves.

    Enter the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, a non-profit organization that provides support to Jacksonville families of a child with cancer. Many times, the Jay Fund works closely with the social worker assigned to patients in the hospital who help identify the families in need.

    “We partner with the PGA TOUR, of which we are very proud,” said Rita Malie, program director for the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund. “In September, THE PLAYERS provided 31 incredible meals for our patients. Soon after, Tom Ingram, Cayden’s dad, called to thank us for the food and mentioned that Cayden was an avid golfer. He wondered if there would ever be any way his son could play the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course.”

    Fast forward to THE PLAYERS Championship’s “Dream Sawgrass Experience” on March 2, which included a personal video message from Jordan Spieth. In it, Spieth invited Cayden, his dad and his grandfather to play the famed TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course after PLAYERS week.

    Tom Coughlin Jay Fund recipient Cayden Ingram hits balls on the driving range at TPC Sawgrass. (Doug Milne/PGA TOUR)

    Tom Coughlin Jay Fund recipient Cayden Ingram hits balls on the driving range at TPC Sawgrass. (Doug Milne/PGA TOUR)

    In addition to that round of golf, Cayden had been selected to represent the Jay Fund during “Dream Day” on Wednesday of tournament week. That part of the experience included VIP seating inside the ropes on the famed par-3 17th hole – as well as a surprise meet-and-greet with Jordan Spieth.

    “Two weeks ago, THE PLAYERS presented us with this wonderful gift to be able to come here,” said Malie. “Cayden just finished treatment less than a week ago, so some days have been better than others. He actually underwent three treatments in a single day last week. But he has been so excited about this.”

    On Wednesday morning at the 17th hole, Cayden, his father and grandfather were greeted by every player practicing through.

    “It’s really awesome and cool to be out here,” Cayden said. “A lot of people don’t get to do this, so it’s awesome to be able to see the players up close…and get to meet some of them, too.”

    “This is just wonderful,” said David Theurich, Cayden’s grandfather. “Not only is it nice being around all the golfers and other nice people, but it’s also such an opportunity for me to get to be with this great young man.”

    “It really is an awesome experience for us, to be so up-close-and-personal with the players,” said Cayden’s father, Tom, a civilian employee of the Department of the Navy. “To be able to experience it with Cayden is incredible. It’s a great diversion from what he’s going through with his cancer treatments in and out of hospitals on a weekly basis. It’s a great break from all that.”

    Several hours later, the trio hunkered down on the par-3 eighth tee to await what would be a surprise to Cayden; the arrival of Spieth.

    After that initial – and enthusiastic – interaction, Spieth insisted that Cayden walk side-by-side with him for his two remaining practice holes. Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, even turned looper duty – bag and all – to Cayden’s father.

    Tom Coughlin Jay Fund recipient Cayden Ingram poses with Jordan Spieth. (Doug Milne/PGA TOUR)

    Tom Coughlin Jay Fund recipient Cayden Ingram poses with Jordan Spieth. (Doug Milne/PGA TOUR)

    “If you look at it through a positive lens like Cayden is doing, you believe that this is just what you’ve got to do right now and that you’ll come out better,” said Spieth. “You see it with people that are dealt a bad hand for a while. Once they get through it, they’re likely to wind up in an even better and stronger place than the ones who never had to deal with it.”

    “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” said Tom. “The thing that’s most troubling is that when Cayden was 12 and started this ordeal, cancer started robbing him of his childhood. But I always tell him that he’s strong, that he’s going to win this fight and that he’s going to come out of it on the other side even stronger than he was before.”

    In spite of their hope for Cayden’s cancer to continue in remission and lead to a cancer-free life, it proved difficult.

    “The hope was for it to not come to bone marrow transplant,” said Tom. “But it has come to that, and he is going to have to have it. So, now, that’s what we’re looking forward to; anything to make him free from cancer.

    “We want to be able to get him back to a normal teenager schedule. … He really got upset about it when first diagnosed, because we were originally in the hospital for over a week. I remember him looking at me and saying, ‘Dad, I just want things to go back to normal.’ I told him they would…soon enough, they would.”

    Hoping for normal – going to school every day, playing sports – and playing the ball as it lies.

    When the whole “Dream Sawgrass Experience” experience started back on March 2, Malie noticed that Cayden was rather pale and seemingly not feeling well.

    “I was afraid the day wasn’t going to end well,” she said. “But, about four hours later, after experiencing so much, he had his color back. At lunch, after eating one of TPC Sawgrass’ big pretzels, his dad asked him if he would like something for lunch.”

    “I’d like a steak,” Cayden said.

    He polished off nearly the entire thing.

    “Experiences like this that THE PLAYERS offers means so much to the patients,” said Malie. “Even though you can’t tell, it meant so much to him. He perked up and, despite not starting the day very well, ended the day so very excited. He had an awesome end to his day.”

    “Golf kind of parallels life in some ways,” said Spieth. “You go through the ebbs and flows in life, but just keep on trekking. It’s like the old golf quote about getting some good breaks and getting some bad breaks. Either way, you always play the ball where it lies.”

    “Everything happens for a reason, I do believe,” Tom said. “I try to keep a positive aspect in the answers I find. I told Cayden that I believe this is God really testing his faith. I told him that if he could stay positive through this whole recovery, it would strengthen his faith more than anything else ever could. That’s one of the main things I try to impress upon him. We pray together every day for healing and recovery. That’s something we believe in.”

    “His positive attitude is something special he left for me,” Spieth said. “It’s something I can now have with me to learn from.”

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