Minus both parents, caddie finds path with help of Evans Scholarship

Minus both parents, caddie finds path with help of Evans Scholarship

Amateur

Minus both parents, caddie finds path with help of Evans Scholarship

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Malachi Zeitner has certainly been through too much to let a couple of heavy bags get in his way. Even ones he can’t pick up at all.

The teenager was back for another summer of caddieing at Brookside Golf & Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, and his first loop, a double, would be with regulars Billy Martin and Rusty Thompson. Sounds good, except the bags seemed particularly heavy.

Turns out the pair was playing a joke, having stuffed their bags with removable stones from a nearby wall to weigh things down for their looper.

“We were all there watching and he picks up the bags and his arms start to shake,” said Brad Zeitner, Brookside’s head professional and Malachi’s uncle. “As he finally gets them up on his shoulders, we couldn’t help but start laughing.”

Malachi looked over and smiled. Just another day in the caddie yard.

As it would turn out, all of those days carrying bags would bring a reward. After two summers of caddieing at his uncle’s club at Brookside, Malachi would be granted a coveted Chick Evans Scholarship, earning him a full ride to Miami University (Ohio).

The Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholarship is a nearly century-old institution that offers full-ride scholarships to adolescents with strong caddie records, excellent grades, financial need and outstanding character.

It was announced in December that the 2016 BMW Championship raised $2.8 million for the Evans Scholars Foundation, the WGA nonprofit that runs the Evans Scholarship program.

Currently there are more than 900 Evans Scholars, and upwards of 10,000 caddies have graduated college thanks to the Evans Scholarship.

Zeitner is among many success stories from the program, but also serves as one of its most notable. The 23-year-old actually earned the scholarship in 2012, graduated from Miami with a degree in zoology and currently is in his first year at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry as he pursues a four-year doctorate as well as a dream to become a dentist.

But his hardships are more profound than the average Evans Scholar.

For the past decade, Zeitner hasn’t had either of his parents in his life. His mom served jail time in his early years and wasn’t in the picture during his adolescence.

His father, Brandon, was a present and attentive parent, but he could never conquer his alcoholism.

As the teenage years approached for Malachi, his dad faced hospital visits and something was clearly up. But Malachi admits he didn’t know the seriousness of the situation at the time. His dad hid his issues well, and Malachi, a naive adolescent, didn’t know Brandon drank more than the average father.

Then without much warning in 2007, Brandon died. Malachi was 13.

“It really all hit at once,” Malachi said.

Not only the death of his father, who Malachi adored despite his issues, but his mother’s brief resurgence in his life for financial benefit before abandoning her son once she learned there was none. Malachi’s paternal grandparents were granted custody in Sioux City, Iowa, and the teenager was now, devastatingly, without either of his parents.

It could have all fallen apart there. Instead, Malachi got to work.

His Uncle Brad and Aunt Beth had learned about the Evans Scholars program and by the time Malachi reached high school, they wondered if he might spend summers with them and caddie at Brookside for a chance to earn the scholarship.

Malachi jumped at the opportunity. That would mean two summers – the minimum caddieing requirement needed to be eligible for the scholarship – in Columbus far away from everybody he knew in Sioux City. So it was a sacrifice.

“I was giving up two of my summers with my friends, not knowing anybody. I didn’t have a single friend in Columbus,” Zeitner said. “I literally played golf, caddied and came home, every single day.”

But he did make quick acquaintances and connections on the golf course, and heading into his senior year was Evans Scholarship eligible and had a shot at the full ride.

Part of the process in applying for the scholarship is an interview in front of the Evans Scholarship Committee. How’d Zeitner do in that portion?

When prompted to talk about his difficult childhood near the end of the interview, he had the whole room in tears.

“On my way out, a director I’d hardly met shook my hand and said, ‘Son, I’ve been coming to these interviews for 25 years, and that’s the best interview I’ve ever seen,’ ” Zeitner said.

A few months later, Zeitner got a letter from the WGA in the mail and at first thought it was a rejection letter for the scholarship because of the envelope’s smaller size. But he quickly learned that he’d been given the nod.

It had all come together: He had a full ride to school to pursue his dream.

Not that it surprised his family. The teenage boy spent three full summers overall, including one after his senior year following his earning of the scholarship, in Columbus caddieing at Brookside.

While the grandparents had taken on the role of parents most of the year, Zeitner’s Columbus family still sought to ensure he was on the right path when he stayed with them.

His uncle soon realized how redundant that was, though, recalling one time when he sat down to advise Malachi only to get the chilling credo of a lifetime.

“He said to me, ‘Hey Uncle Brad, you don’t have to worry about me. I’m going to make something out of myself,’ ” Brad said.

And he’s gone about doing it since. Malachi was captain of his high school golf team and harbored ambitions about walking on to Miami’s golf team, with the idea that he might be able to crack the lineup senior year if he busted his rump, but ultimately he felt he couldn’t put his full effort into both school and a sport.

So he decided to fully focus on his studies in furthering his path to one day become a dentist, a dream he has possessed since middle school.

It’s certainly an unusual childhood dream. After all, most people aren’t exactly enthralled about going to the dentist. Then again, Zeitner didn’t have your average childhood.

For him, the dentistry dream was a result of his upbringing. After what he’d been through, Zeitner wished to help people in need some day and had heard dentists provide more free medical care than anybody.

That resonated.

“It’s one of the few professions where I can have a strong positive impact on someone on a daily basis,” Zeitner said.

Those aren’t idle words, either. As far back as middle school, he told his family that he would provide free dental care to at least one person a year once he entered the profession. He intends to stick to that promise.

Malachi Zeitner (middle) enjoyed his time at Miami University Ohio.

Malachi Zeitner (middle) enjoyed his time at Miami University Ohio. (Courtesy of the WGA)

He’s well on his way to his dream job thanks to his path – one that earned him countless connections and a few really plush caddie gigs.

Brookside is often a site for U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and that means prime looping opportunities. In back-to-back years, Zeitner caddied at sectionals for Daniel Chopra, a two-time PGA Tour winner, and Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion.

Zeitner’s most memorable loop, though, was at the 2010 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. The Web.com Tour event is played in the Columbus area, and through his uncle’s connections, Zeitner got to caddie all four rounds for a star University of Georgia amateur named Russell Henley.

The future PGA Tour winner made it a fun week with his local caddie. Henley was leaving several putts short early in the week, so he made a deal with Zeitner: For every putt I leave short, I owe you 10 push-ups. For every putt I make, you owe me 10.

“Of course on the second hole, he buries a 20-footer,” Zeitner said, with a laugh. “So I’m doing push-ups on the side of the green.”

But that was only the surface of Henley’s incredible putting.

One day on the practice green, the Georgia star was hitting 10-15 foot-putts one-handed for several minutes before looking over at his looper.

“It had to have been at least 5-10 minutes of him hitting these putts right in, and he looks up at me, smiles and says, ‘Did you notice I haven’t missed one yet too?’ ” Zeitner said.

What his caddie has done despite his upbringing is probably more impressive, though.

“The adversity Malachi’s overcome and the perseverance he’s shown is phenomenal,” Brad said.

Malachi is both exceptional and unexceptional. He’s just one of thousands of Evans Scholar success stories, but his definitely seems to resonate among the best of them.

It shows the power of a person with a boatload of ambition and a bit of help.

Zeitner got some of that with his family stepping up, but would he have made it to college at all without the Evans Scholarship? He believes so, but it would have been a much tougher ordeal.

“Without the scholarship I like to think I would’ve still gone (to college), but it would have been so much more stressful worrying about money,” Zeitner said.

He added, too, that he’s actually the optimist of the family, and that his worrywart grandparents “would have been a wreck” thinking about how he would pay his way through school.

But all of that is moot. Years from now, if you’re in the Columbus area, you might encounter a young dentist named Malachi, happily living out his dream.

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