J.T. Griffin fueled by sister's memory as he chases TOUR dream
Griffin's sister Sarah-Morgan died of leukemia at age 7; he donated bone marrow in the fight
May 30, 2019
By Doug Milne, PGATOUR.COM
- May 30, 2019
- J.T. Griffin with his older sister Britain and younger sister Sarah-Morgan. (Courtesy of J.T. Griffin)
WAKE FOREST, N.C. -- At this week’s REX Hospital Open in Raleigh, North Carolina, a lot of things are clicking for J.T. Griffin.
And, they should be.
Griffin, a native of nearby Wilson, North Carolina, is not only on familiar ground in Raleigh this week, but the 32-year-old was born at REX Hospital, title sponsor of this week’s event at the Country Club at Wakefield Plantation.
On top of it all, his game is coming along better early on than it had been in previous seasons. In his first start of the 2019 Web.com Tour campaign, Griffin finished solo-fifth at the LECOM Suncoast Classic in west Florida. What that has helped him do is earn more starts without having to Monday qualify or ask for sponsor invitations.
“It feels good to be able to roll into this week,” Griffin said. “In the past, this would have been the start of my season. Instead, it’s my eighth event. So, it’s nice to be in a rhythm getting here.”
But, wherever Griffin goes on any given week, a piece of home always is – and always will be – with him.
At the age of seven, Griffin’s little sister, Sarah-Morgan, succumbed after a long, arduous battle with leukemia.
“She was diagnosed in 1998,” he said. “We were at East Carolina University’s Children’s Hospital for about six months, before she was given a clean bill of health.”
That ray of hope, though, would be temporary. A year later, she relapsed and was taken to Duke University Hospital.
Griffin, barely a teenager, offered everything he had, including his bone marrow.
“It was really painful,” he said. “Bone marrow comes from your spine. So, they go through each hip bone into your spine with what literally looks like a giant corkscrew. The recovery wasn’t too bad. But, Sarah-Morgan had to get it put into her the same way they were taking it out of me. It was going into her as it was coming out of me. So, overall, what I did was so minimal compared to what she was going through.”
J.T. Griffin's sister Sarah-Morgan died from leukemia at age 7.— Web.com Tour (@WebDotComTour) May 29, 2019
Griffin strives to #CrackCancer however he can ... and challenges his fellow @GTGolf alums to do the same.@ChessonHadley, @VinceWhaley, @PaulHaleyGolf ... you're up. #LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/AQDlqe83pa
An anything-but-normal life had become Griffin’s new norm. His family exhausted every fiber of their being to get Sarah-Morgan healthy again.
“My parents ended up getting an apartment in Durham,” he said. “I remember my older sister, Britain, picking me up from school and we’d go to Duke every day. We would stay there over the weekend and I’d be back in school that Monday morning. Basically, my older sister raised me throughout that time.”
As hard as they all fought, it was a battle which could not be won. In 2002, at the age of seven, Sarah-Morgan died. J.T. was 14.
“She was so tough,” said Griffin. “I mean, she got stuck every single day with needles and was going through radiation. My mom recently told me that by the time they were done, they were giving her enough morphine for an elephant. And, she only weighed 45-50 pounds.”
It took a long time before J.T. would make the best peace he could with the passing of his little sister.
“I didn’t understand it then nearly like I do now,” Griffin, now 32, said. “I understood that she was sick and that it wasn’t good, but I never thought she was going to die. You just never think someone like that is going to pass away. So, it became a reality check. In hindsight, I can see how it put everything into perspective.”
As J.T. began to put the pieces of his life back together, part of his recovery was to realize that no matter where he went or what he did, the memory of Sarah-Morgan would forever be with him. The challenge was to find a way to overcome the sadness with positive memories of all the goodness she brought to those who had the good fortune of getting to know her.
“I remember going to Duke University for a recruiting trip. It was gloomy,” he said. “It was just so heavy. We got there and instead of going to left to the hospital, we went right to campus. I told myself, ‘I can’t do this.’ I was a Duke fan growing up. But, it’s just one of those things you never forget. Every day, it’s there. There are reminders like that.”She was so tough. My mom recently told me that by the time they were done, they were giving her enough morphine for an elephant.
Eventually, though, perspective shone through.
“It makes everyone stronger and makes 75s on the golf course not seem that bad,” he said. “You hang your head after not making birdie at a par-5 hole or you make a late bogey, but then you think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”
This week holds a special place in Griffin’s heart. Even though four previous starts have resulted in three missed cuts and a T78 finish last year, it remains a very significant week for the man who donates these days to various children’s hospitals. He would love nothing more than a win to pave his way to a future on the PGA TOUR, but it’s the name on the tickets this week, quite literally representative of where he has come from, that means the most.
“REX is everywhere in Raleigh,” Griffin said. “They’ve sponsored this event for as long as I can remember. Not only that, but the hospital. You hear so many great stories of people coming out of there for the better. It’s great to have a place to play with them as the title sponsor, but to have them here as the hospital, it is … that’s just incredible for so many people.”