U.S. Junior Amateur: Herr is simply all heart
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BREMERTON, Wash. – It’s cut day at the U.S. Junior Amateur, which means it’s the most important round of Zach Herr’s budding career. The 16-year-old is trying to make match play for the first time, and he’s ranked in the top 50 nationally, and the college coaches huddling behind every green here at Gold Mountain only make him more nervous and more excited and more prepared . . . and you can’t help but root for the kid whose heart is three fairways wide.
Never heard of Zachary Herr? His mother, Cyndie, was diagnosed with colon cancer in January 2007. He found out while driving home from a club-fitting session. A few weeks later, he already had planned ways to raise money for cancer research. He called it the “Zach Attacks Cancer Foundation.” He rallied the community in his hometown of New Hope, Pa. Yes, New Hope. You can’t make this stuff up.
Zach bought lime green Livestrong bracelets and sold them to his friends for $1. The first day, he sold 1,500 bracelets. “Pretty much the whole school had one,” he said. For the silent auction, the family received donations from local bed-and-breakfast joints and Golf Galaxy and a stay-and-play package at Pine Needles (N.C.). Two charity tournaments followed at Jericho National, his home club right down the road. He wrote letters to Titleist. He wrote letters to Ping. Super Bowl tickets were auctioned off. All this, before he ever entered high school.
Zach’s father, Eric, tells an even better story. One afternoon, while cutting the lawn outside his family’s old farm house, Eric was stopped by his next-door neighbor. Strange, he thought; they’d talked only a handful of times previously. The neighbor leaned over the fence, like they do in the old sitcoms, and said, “I heard about your wife. I was at a charity event and someone told me that she had blood in her stool, and I also had that. I just want to tell you that I got checked out and she saved my life. I’ve got colon cancer, too.”
The neighbor went on to donate $15,000.
Things like that, the community support. New Hope. In two years, the Zach Attacks Cancer Foundation raised more than $85,000 for cancer research – including $60,000 the first year.
Zach presented the check at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, where Cyndie was being treated, and gave a speech, using cue cards, in front of 300 doctors. Not a dry eye at the hospital. He was 13 at the time.
“It was tough,” Zach said. “She’d come home from radiation and she was all strapped up with chemo bags and all this stuff. It was tough to watch her, so weak, and all she’d want to do is sleep. You never know. The next day, she could be dead.”
Eric remembers “bawling his eyes out” one day in 2009. After undergoing several treatments, Cyndie was cancer-free in her colon but needed to have three segments of her lung removed. Doctors feared the cancer had spread. Turns out it was just a fungus.
Then they celebrated three weeks ago. The port was removed from her chest – the final all-clear sign from the doctors. There still will be CT scans every six months, but it seems Cyndie, now 47, finally has turned the corner. Not coincidentally, Zach’s golf career has turned the corner, too. He won twice in 2008-09, when his mother’s four-year battle was its most punishing. He received the USGA/AJGA Presidents Youth Leadership Award. And now, he’s being recruited by teams such as Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and LSU.
So, after an opening 75, good for a tie for 38th, this is an important round, to show off for the coaches huddling behind every green. But here’s the truth: When this U.S. Junior is over, when this hectic summer competition schedule is complete, Zach can think of nothing better than being home, in his old farm house, in his hometown of New Hope, Pa., with his rebuilt family.
“When you’re that young and you see a problem that serious,” he says, “it kind of puts everything into focus. You kind of have to live life to the fullest. I’m planning on doing that.”
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Editor’s note: Zach Herr shot 75-76 and qualified for match play at the U.S. Junior Amateur. On Wednesday, he faced Cody Proveaux in the opening round.