When Loxley met Harold Varner III
“It was absolutely through the game of golf that we were able to catch this early.”
As a home-schooled seven-year-old boy, the world was Loxley Greensmith’s oyster with regard to P.E. activities. Without hesitation, his enthusiastic choice was golf. Every day, it was to be golf.
Loxley’s mother, Brandy Morgan, could not have been more elated. After all, it gave her son a chance to spend time with her golf-playing father, Gregory Bing.
From the get-go, Loxley was filled with optimism about the time to play golf with his grandfather. Not long after the charismatic whippersnapper got into the swing of things that first day, though, things hit a rough patch.
“He started experiencing some back pain,” Morgan said. “At the time, I was a pediatric nurse, so I felt like maybe it was to be expected. He had just started playing golf, so I figured using his muscles in new ways caused it.”
Bing supported his daughter’s theory – at first.
“That first day, after swinging a club for a while, he did start complaining about back pain,” Bing said. “The next lesson, after just a few swings, Loxley dropped his club to the ground. He said his back hurt so bad he couldn’t do it anymore. He just walked away.”
The more Morgan thought about it, the more she worried it was something other than his muscles being used in new ways.
“It would’ve been one thing if he was 48 years old, but for an eight-year-old to be having issues is something I was concerned about,” Loxley’s mother said. “My mind went straight to worst-case scenario.”
When her son’s back pain continued, Morgan took her son to a doctor.
“We started with an ortho, because I figured it was swing related,” she said. “When the x-rays came back normal, they did a complete blood count to check his white blood cell level.”
That night, the doctor called and urged Morgan to bring her son back in right away. His white blood cell count was extremely low.
“The next day, we went in and were told Loxley had leukemia,” she said. “When they finally said the word – leukemia – it was met with anger and sadness, but also some relief. I knew we could make a plan and seek treatment. I knew the type of leukemia he had comes with a great success rate. But, for him to have to go through the procedures, the nausea and chemo was a little much to take in.”
Loxley’s story is among those with happy endings. In fact, when a patient undergoes a final chemo treatment and is in full remission, the patient celebrates by ringing a ceremonial bell. That day for Loxley is scheduled for December 10.
“In the beginning, it was really tough because he couldn’t play golf anymore and actually stopped walking” Morgan said. “But, his strength has come back through physical therapy. He does still take chemotherapy each day, but his strength and enthusiasm continue to grow every day. All pain is gone.”
The “Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation,” a North Florida organization which supports families faced with pediatric cancer, is among the many charitable organizations which benefits from THE PLAYERS Championship each year. Loxley and his family have been among those they’ve supported.
“The Jay Fund has done so much for us,” said Morgan. “It has been an amazing and incredible relationship. We consider everyone there to be very, very good friends.”
“When we entered into this, we had no idea what we were doing,” added Bing, who has started volunteering for the Foundation. “They stepped in and helped us with everything from finances to food. They help make a very tumultuous time a lot less stressful.”
In conjunction with the PLAYERS Championship and Jay Fund, Loxley and his family were treated to a red-carpet experience on Wednesday at TPC Sawgrass, complete with the opportunity to meet his favorite TOUR player, Harold Varner III.
True to form, Varner refused to settle for a quick and impersonal meet-and-greet. Loxley was invited inside the ropes during a practice round to play the par-3 third hole of the Stadium course alongside the engaging TOUR veteran.
“Loxley had chemo last night, so when he woke up this morning, he wasn’t feeling particularly well,” said Bing. “He just didn’t know if he would be able to participate. But, we got him out here and when he saw Harold Varner, he just lit up. All his natural color came back to him. It has just been an amazing experience for him to get to meet someone he regularly watches on television.”
“I’m able to play golf, exercise, walk and do a lot of things. I’m healthy,” Varner said. “Here’s this kid who, at eight years old, is having to go through something no-one – kid or grown up – should ever have to go through.”
“He has never lost his spirit, never lost his quirkiness and has remained Loxley through and through. He – the kid – actually made it easy for us – the adults,” she said. “He’s even able to start practicing again.”
“When we got that phone call from the doctor that night, it was the worst phone call of our lives,” Bing said. “They explained that he had tested positive for leukemia. It wasn’t something we had running in the family, so it rocked us all. But, being out here today and out of the woods, playing a hole of golf on the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course with HV III is beyond amazing.”
“A kid like Loxley needs to be able to be himself as much as possible, because people like that do us all a lot of good,” said Varner. “I think he would trade not being able to walk inside the ropes with me for not having cancer in a heartbeat. The biggest thing for me was that it really helps put things into perspective. It’s certainly had some sad elements to it, but Loxley has such an upbeat attitude. Really, it was more of a treat for me, probably, than it was for him.”
“When we were all going through our darkest days with this, it was almost like Loxley was carrying us all,” said Bing. “On his worst day, all he was concerned with was when his back would stop hurting so he could start playing golf again. He was – and is – the strength of this family.”
When Varner hit his tee shot at the par-3 third hole in front of Loxley and a PGA TOUR video crew capturing the experience, his ball came to rest four feet from the hole. Not bad by most standards. Loxley, though, had higher expectations he wasn’t afraid to voice.
“I thought it was supposed to go in the hole, not stop just near it,” Loxley stated. “But, there’s a video crew here, so they can just edit you missing the hole in one out. It will be like it never even happened.”
“There’s no question about the significance of this sport through all this,” Morgan said. “It was absolutely through the game of golf that we were able to catch this early.”
Now nine years old, this week marks Loxley’s first PLAYERS Championship experience. One could also argue that it’s within the game of golf where he can forge ahead with a clean card and leave the past in its rightful place, almost as if leukemia for him never even happened.