April 11, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Former South Carolina All-American golfer and current LPGA standout Kristy McPherson doesn't back down from a challenge. Whether it's helping the less fortunate in another country or managing a painful disease since childhood and paying it forward to other children, McPherson knows how to make a difference in the lives of others.
"I've been very blessed," McPherson said. "Anyone who has the opportunity to be a student-athlete at a top school like South Carolina is very fortunate. I get to play a game for a living. I had a chance to play a game for four years in college, and had a chance to go to college for free just because I was decent at playing a game. There are a lot of people in this world who are not as lucky. I know that not everybody can go out and save a community in Africa, but I think each of us can do our own little part where we can make a difference."
McPherson, a native of Conway, S.C., is the most decorated women's golfer in Gamecock history, winning six career events while at South Carolina. She is one of only two individuals to win two-straight Southeastern Conference championships as she was the individual medalist in both 2001 and 2002. She was a three-time First-Team All-SEC and NCAA All-American selection from 2001-2003, and was the SEC Player of the Year in 2003.
"It was the best four years of most of my life and my golfing career," McPherson said. "If they let me play four more years there, I'd do it in a heartbeat. My favorite moment was probably winning the SEC as a team in 2002. There's not much better than winning as a team and winning for your university."
More than a decade since graduating, she is still succeeding on the LPGA tour, which introduced her to Hall of Fame golfer Betsy King. King now runs the Golf Fore Africa Foundation and has sponsored charity events over the last decade to raise money for the impoverished people there. McPherson and several other LPGA golfers took a humanitarian trip to Zambia last December as part of the organization's efforts to provide the citizens clean water.
"Betsy King has been asking me for years to go, and my schedule finally worked out this year, and I was able to make it happen," McPherson said. "I've been a part of her charity pro-am tournaments where every year she shows a video of the kids over there walking to get water. It used to be that 1,600 kids would die each day around the world for lack of clean water. Now it's down to 1,000, but that's still too many. So every time I see that video, it pulls at my heart."
Golf Fore Africa is committed to raising money for 117 boreholes or wells to be put in place to help them survive.
"They're $15,000 each," McPherson said. "The wells go into each community. Instead of these women and children having to walk up to six miles per day, two or three times per day, to go get nasty water that you probably wouldn't stick your toe in, now they're putting wells into the community so that the most they have to walk for water is about fifteen minutes."
I got the chance to see the pain from not having clean water and the joy on their faces later. I want to go back many times.
These wells are giving local villagers pure, clean water for the first time in their lives. The wells reach approximately 300 people in each community.
"When you see people get clean water for the first time, it's pretty amazing," McPherson said. "As soon as we pulled into the village, the people are grabbing you to hug and kiss you. They're singing and dancing. It's the best party you have ever been to."
McPherson and her group were there for five days and visited eight villages. She saw five wells being installed and was on hand for their ribbon cutting.
"We had little kids out there to pump the water for the first time," McPherson said. "We saw the drilling of one of the wells, and you see the water come spewing out of the ground, and they were just singing and dancing and rolling around it. It was pure joy for them to see clean water for the first time."
In addition to Golf Fore Africa's efforts, other advanced technology is make a difference as well.
"When we were over there, we saw them put in this new mechanized system that uses solar panels," McPherson said. "They put them in a central location so they can reach health care centers, schools, and markets. They've only put in three of these mechanized systems so far, and those cost $50,000 apiece, and they reach up to 10,000 people."
In addition to the wells that Golf Fore Africa has recently sponsored, the organization is committed this year to raising enough money to get more of the advanced mechanized systems installed.
McPherson admits that her experience helps her keep things in perspective.
"We take a lot of things for granted over here," McPherson said. "I mean the things we get upset about are pretty ridiculous when you think about it. It's real life. You see the commercials on TV, and it tugs on your heart a little bit. But when you go over there, it becomes personal. Those faces you see, they have names. They're real. I got the chance to see the pain from not having clean water and the joy on their faces later. I want to go back many times. Hopefully, when we get enough money for the mechanized system, we can go back and see that being put in or put to use."
In the meantime, with what little free time McPherson has, she volunteers for the Arthritis National Research Foundation, for which she is also a board member. She enjoys playing in pro-am tournaments and speaking to children who have been affected by arthritis.
"I've gone to hospitals to speak to kids and have had some of them follow me around during practice rounds," McPherson said. "I'll take any chance to try to connect with them. I just try to let them know that they can do anything they want, even become a professional athlete. Things might be a little more difficult for them, but there's nothing you can't do. It's not fun being in pain when you're that young. I just want to see if I can give them a little hope and a little joy."
Her motivation to inspire children stems from her own experience of being diagnosed with Still's disease, a type of rheumatoid arthritis, when she was 11 years old. While it limited her ability to play other sports, she was still able to play golf.
"I couldn't walk for a while," McPherson said. "I was in and out of hospitals. When you're in the sixth grade, it seems like the end of the world, but I've always told those kids that I speak to and anybody else, that getting sick in the sixth grade was the best thing that ever happened to me because there is no way in the world that I would have played golf in college, probably wouldn't have gone to the University of South Carolina, wouldn't have gone on to play professionally, and wouldn't have met all the people who are so important in my life now if that didn't happen. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason."
Gaining that perspective continues to motivate her today.
"It's made me be tough when I needed to be tough," McPherson said. "The little things aren't as big as I thought anymore. Any bit of pain or a bad day on the golf course, I've always told myself that I've been through a lot worse than this. When you go through something as a kid, it puts things in perspective throughout your life. I will try to never take a single day for granted, especially playing this game for a living. I'm pretty fortunate."
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