Thomas to wear custom shoes designed by young cancer survivor
July 23, 2019
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Justin Thomas' special delivery at WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational
Bailey’s first love was – and still is -- baseball.
The 14-year-old can’t really play anymore, though. Running the bases is awfully hard when you’ve got a titanium bone in your left thigh and a brace on your left foot.
But Bailey, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2017, is now cancer-free thanks to the nearly year-long treatment he received at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
So, he’s playing some golf now instead of baseball. It’s a great way to walk and get exercise – and still swing a bat, of sorts, at a little white ball. Graphic art classes five days a week have replaced PE classes now that he’s back in school.
And earlier this summer, when St. Jude and FootJoy were looking for someone to design a pair of golf shoes for Justin Thomas to wear this week at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, Bailey was the perfect choice.
On Tuesday, the teenager was at TPC Southwind to give the shoes to the defending champ, thanks to the help of FedEx's robot. Thomas liked the shoes so much he plans on wearing them all four days of competition.
“I had seen a picture of them, but just, I mean the creativity that Bailey had was tremendous, and also how good of an artist he is,” Thomas said. “I don't think I could draw that, anything close to as good as that. And he did the box, he did the sole, or the insole. It all was tremendous.”
The shoes feature many things close to Bailey’s heart – his two Boston terriers, the Memphis Pyramid, fish (he loves to cast a line out in the water) and a golf ball on a tee – across the saddle. Bailey’s name is on the tongue of the shoes.A look at one of Bailey's sketches for the custom shoes. (Courtesy of FootJoy)
Bailey, who lives in Germantown, Tennessee, also drew a landscape of Memphis featuring the Pyramid and the Hernando de Soto Bridge that FootJoy used for the footbed of the shoes. The box the shoes came in even features the company’s FJ logo as imagined by Bailey, as well.
“It was cool to see the shoes,” Bailey said shyly. “I think they turned out really good.”
Bailey, who used to enter the teen art contests when he was a patient at St. Jude, met with the FootJoy designers on June 17 and did the original drawings. They weren’t sure they had quite enough material after that original session, so they left sketch pads and pencils and markers with him, along with a FedEx box for a quick return. Three days later, the package of Bailey’s “homework” arrived.
Once FootJoy had the additional sketches, the designers set about converting them to computer images, a process that took several days. Those images were then dispatched to the company’s team in China who sent them to a sublimation vendor who printed the designs on the leather.
Since the shoe being used was the existing FJ ICON Shield Tip that Thomas normally wears, the entire process was completed in a little over two weeks.
“I have been in the footwear industry for 22 years and this by far has been the highlight of my career,” Jonathan Bacon, the design manager for FootJoy, said in an email.A detailed look at the shoes and shoebox that FootJoy brought to life from Bailey's designs.
Bailey’s mother, Kimberly, was the one who first suggested her “bionic man” start playing golf. He loves being outdoors -- fishing is another favorite pursuit – and Bailey now plays or hits balls about three times a week. On Monday, he even added a hybrid to his collection of golf clubs.
Bailey, who starts high school in several weeks, has been through a lot in the last three years. He had 40 weeks of chemotherapy at St. Jude. His femur was replaced by the titanium femur and knee joint in what is called a limb-sparing procedure designed to save the use and appearance of the leg. In a few weeks, he will undergo a procedure on the prothesis to lengthen the leg.
The 17-inch incision made to insert the titanium bone and joint didn’t heal properly, though, after all that chemo. So, Bailey had to undergo nearly a dozen surgeries in a six-month period to help that process along. He was using crutches and a knee brace the first time he went to TPC Southwind to see the pros play.
For the last year, though, Bailey has been able to walk on his own. He has a slight limp due to some nerve damage but otherwise is cancer-free and 18 months removed from his last treatment.
“He can get around really well for a kid with a titanium leg,” Kimberly said. “He makes it look pretty easy.”
But Bailey couldn’t play baseball like he used to do. So, last summer on a whim, his mother, who is not a golfer, suggested he go to the local country club and play. She even caddied for him in his first match.Golf has been good therapy for Bailey, helping him strengthen his leg with the titanium bone.
“Now he's got obviously different physical abilities than he did before,” Kimberly explained. “He can walk really pretty well, but he can't run. His endurance isn't as good, and obviously he's got a limp. So, when you're faced with those challenges --- cancer does that to you -- you kind of have to reroute and you know, just start over again in a lot of ways.
“And that's kind of what we've done as a family and just try to figure it out. The things that we used to do, even vacation and sports and things like that are totally different now. Everything's sort of based around what he can participate in.
“And so, this is a really good outlet for him. He gets to swing a club at a ball and that's a great thing.”
Kimberly says playing golf has been good therapy for Bailey. His leg is getting stronger and told her recently that he was surprised at how much he liked the game.
“I never thought that I would be interested in golf and looking out and thinking that like a golf club is cool, but you just never know,” Kimberly remembers him saying. “And I said you just never know. It's something can do for the rest of his life.
“And I think that's really cool.”Justin Thomas with Bailey as he presented him the shoes that he designed.