Justin Thomas, Evan Kuperman reconnect one year after events at Stoneman Douglas
March 05, 2019
By Doug Milne, Jr., PGATOUR.COM
- March 05, 2019
Justin Thomas meets fan from Stoneman Douglas High School
At one point, in the final round of last week’s Honda Classic, defending champion Justin Thomas was in 70th place of 70 players who made the 54-hole cut. He played his first five holes in five-over-par.
He hung in there, though.
Down the stretch, Thomas carded birdies on four of his last five holes. He sank to 70th, but finished T30.
Thomas persevered. There was no option.
Perhaps the most significant element to a life is the ability to emerge from the ashes and rise above. And, a little over a year ago at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, there was an all-in battle cry for perseverance.
While none will ever forget, the story of that day in Parkland is not news to anyone.
Shortly after last year’s shooting at Stoneman Douglas, 17-year-old Evan Kuperman had an opportunity to attend The Honda Classic in nearby Palm Beach Gardens. The hope was that he may be able to divert his mind a bit from the tragedy. After all, he was a member of the Stoneman Douglas golf team and was crazy about PGA TOUR player Justin Thomas. With Kuperman in the gallery that Saturday, Thomas was making a charge.
Sometimes, the slightest action or gesture can ignite the mightiest torch of endurance.
“Evan was walking around there last year after having a terrible week after what happened last year at Stoneman Douglas,” said Evan’s father, Craig Kuperman. “The PGA TOUR had gotten him passes to come to The Honda Classic. So, he decided to come and try to get his mind off everything that had happened. He happened to be near a tee box when players were coming through, so he put his hand out. Justin Thomas glanced over at him and threw him a ball. It changed everything.”
A glance. And, yes, perhaps the toss of a ball. That was all it took to help sustain Evan. When asked what he remembers most about the moment, Evan never breaks stride.
“I just thought him looking at me was really cool,” he said. “And, after he looked at me, he just tossed me his ball. It was just so cool for him to look at me, even though I was sure he wouldn’t remember it.”
After making a tough par at No. 12 in round three last year, Thomas made his way to the 13th tee, but not before the glancing at Evan. With Thomas unaware of Evan’s Stoneman Douglas golf shirt, fate played through.
“It really helped get his mind off of things,” Craig said. “It gave him something positive to hold onto and motivation to move ahead. It really meant a lot to him. Since then, sure, he has still been trying to get through a lot of stuff. But, things are getting better. We’ll never forget, but they are getting better. My family was one of the lucky ones.”
After Sunday’s round last week, Evan and his parents were waiting for Thomas at the scoring area. A year later, Evan wished to return to The Honda Classic not just have the opportunity to formally meet Justin, but to give back to Justin.
“Evan gave Justin the Stoneman Douglas yardage book because he wanted to give him a piece of something we were feeling back at home,” said Craig. “When there was talk of getting the yardage books made, Evan was the one on the team who wanted to make it happen. He had an extra one, and he told us he was saving for a nice occasion. So, when the opportunity to meet Justin this week unfolded, the first thing he told me was that he wanted to give Justin the yardage book. He even took it into his room and signed it for him. He was so excited to have this opportunity to give it to him.”
“I wanted to give him the yardage book, because I thought maybe he could use it in a tournament,” said Evan. “Or, maybe he could just look at it and remember meeting me today or remember what happened at Stoneman Douglas last year.”
“The yardage book is awesome, it’s amazing,” said Thomas. “This is one of those things that will be stored away for safe-keeping at home. Plus, he wrote a really nice little message on there for me, so it’s even more special.”
Even though the glance resonated deepest, still today, Evan talks about the golf ball.
“I remember when he first got it, he said he couldn’t wait to text us and tell us he had gotten Justin Thomas’ golf ball,” said Craig. “It put a smile on his face. I felt like I could see it through my phone.”
“The golf ball is a big souvenir in my room,” Evan said. “Every time I look at it, I think back to the moment he threw it to me. It was amazing. Then, to get to meet him (Sunday) and have him sign it to me, using my name, was really incredible. For him to even remember it a year later was amazing.”
“Well, if you consider making eye contact meeting someone, Evan and I met last year,” Thomas laughed. “I had heard he was planning to come out this week, so I was hoping to have the opportunity to meet him and his family. It’s probably not a coincidence that they came out on a day like this, when I was five-over through five holes. But, it just doesn’t matter. After everything that he and his friends have been through, it’s just really cool that he came out here and I had a chance to meet him.”
“Meeting him today was incredible,” Evan said. “He gave me good, honest feedback on his round, even though he didn’t play too well. He talked to me about really forcing myself to push through in whatever I do. Even if it’s just a tough round, he said you just always have to push through and hopefully something better comes along.”
Evan Kuperman is a little more than a year removed from the tragedy at his high school. Certainly, the memories of that day will live with him forever. But in every person’s head, there’s more room for light than darkness. And, the good news is that while some images and memories never fully go away, others just get better with time.
“There was nothing I could have done or said last year at that moment to make anything better, but I am really glad that the ball is special to him and made a positive impact on him,” Thomas said. “Anytime you do something to make a positive impact on someone, especially after going through something like that, you just never know how much it can mean to them.”
Even when that something is just a glance.