Editor’s note: Terry Walker caddies for Andrew Landry on the PGA Tour. In April 2018, the pair won the Valero Texas Open on The Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio. The victory was the first of Landry’s career. The following story is Walker’s touching, firsthand account of a meeting he and Landry recently had with a couple, who lost their 4-year-old daughter, to pass along a heartfelt gift.
This story begins two years ago in December of 2016.
That’s when I contacted Andrew Landry to see if he needed a caddie for the Q-School Finals in Orlando, Fla.
Although I had contacted Andrew several times before trying to work for him, this time he said, “Let’s give it a try and see how it goes.”
It was the opportunity I had been chasing for some time, and I finally got the chance to work for the person I truly felt could make a big impact on the PGA Tour. It was during that tournament that Andrew shared with me what he believed about himself: He believed he was put on this earth to play golf and to give back and help others.
What he didn’t know at the time was that I believed the exact same thing. I shared my feelings with him about what I felt he was capable of accomplishing in this game, and I also shared my feelings about charitable endeavors. Andrew was very direct when he told me that, “giving back and helping others is a requirement if you are going to be a member of my team.”
That was the first time I saw the logo on his golf bag that read “#AustynStrong” and not long after, I learned the story behind that logo…
Just before the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Andrew learned about a young girl from his home town that was in a battle for her life. Austyn Louise Halter, a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was fighting a rare form of leukemia called Acute Megakaryoblastic Leukemia.
She was 2 1/2 years old when she was first diagnosed and, after intense chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant from her mother Sarah, Austyn entered remission at age 3. To help Austyn and her family, Andrew donated half of his sponsorship money and set up a gofundme.com web page. In total, these efforts raised over $27,000 for Austyn and her family. Andrew and I talked about Austyn’s condition and how she was doing on a constant basis, and one day he informed me that Austyn’s cancer had returned.
A few months later, we were playing a Web.com event in Springfield, Missouri. During the Tuesday practice round, Andrew told me that Austyn had passed the Friday before. He couldn’t look me in the eyes as he spoke, and I could tell that he was emotional. He mentioned that she was in a much better place than we are, and then we were silent. This little girl, whom he had never met, had a huge place in his heart and his spiritual side had grown as a result. I made the decision right then that, if ever given the chance to raise money for charity, that we would do it in honor of Austyn.
Little did I know at the time that our chance to do just that would soon come.
Andrew had a great year on the Web.com Tour in 2017, which included a win and several top 10s. He was able to secure a PGA Tour card, and he had a top-5 and two top 10s during the wraparound season on the PGA Tour. It was during the wraparound season that I approached Scott Sajtinac – President of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies – and inquired about the Caddies for St. Jude fundraiser.
I wanted to start approaching some charitable foundations to start raising funds for this cause. I also felt that Andrew and I had a connection to St. Jude Children’s Hospital that would tie in perfectly: Austyn Louise Halter. To my surprise, I was contacted by Scott in early 2018 to listen in on a conference call with the folks at St. Jude and a few of the APTC representatives. After that conference call, I called Andrew and asked if we could set up the website in honor of Austyn.
Not only was he in favor of it, he mentioned that he would support it! I set up the website and copied Andrew in on it. We knew that there was a cruise giveaway to the caddie who raises the most funds, and per my request, we agreed we would donate the cruise to Austyn’s parents if we raised the most money.
Caddies are a giving bunch – any of them would have done the same thing.
The next thing I knew, Andrew posted the website on Facebook and mentioned that we were trying to win a cruise for Austyn’s parents, Josh and Sarah. I also posted the website on Facebook, and I developed a flyer (see the photo below) to post in the locker rooms of my local club, The Woodlands Country Club.
In total we were able to raise over $13,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
On October 17, 2018, I was notified by Scott and J.D. Peeples (St. Jude) that the cruise was awarded to us. I immediately contacted J.D. to tell him that we would be donating the cruise to the Halters.
J.D. worked with the folks at Carnival to get the paperwork in Josh and Sarah’s names. Once we had the instructions, paperwork and the Carnival certificate, I reached out to Andrew and asked if he could arrange a time for us to get with Josh and Sarah. While we had the proper documentation on November 19, 2018, scheduling conflicts wouldn’t allow for the person-to-person meeting until after Andrew finished the QBE Shootout in December.
Andrew texted me on Wednesday, December 12, 2018, and mentioned that he had set up a time to meet with the Halters on December 13, 2018, at noon. The meeting place would be at the Oak Bluff Cemetery in Port Neches, Texas. This is where Austyn had been laid to rest in August of 2017.
I woke up at 2:15 a.m. the next day and started my normal routine of packing my clothes to wear for the day in my workout bag. Then, I drove to Denny’s in The Woodlands, Texas, as I do every morning. There was some lightning hitting a few miles away, but no rain. The minute I walked into Denny’s, the clouds gave way and a huge storm started moving through.
I got my iPad out and got on Facebook. I looked up “Sarah Halter” and there was a video posted by Sarah of she and her husband dancing with Austyn in a hospital room shortly before her passing. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and quite emotionally draining as well. I literally cried for two hours watching this video. Pouring rain and severe lightning ensued for the entire time I was there until 5:30 a.m. The rain stopped when I walked out the door. It was still dark when I departed Denny’s, and I remember saying to myself that the only thing missing from the storm was a rainbow.
I drove to The Woodlands Country Club, did my workout, and got cleaned up and changed for the day. I walked outside around 7:30 and started my daily prayer. It was not the same prayers I normally say, instead I was praying that God give me the words to say to Josh and Sarah.
Just after 8 a.m., I got a call from Andrew and we agreed to meet at a supermarket in Port Neches and ride together to the cemetery. I told Andrew that I was concerned about the additional expenses the Halters were going to incur when booking their cruise, and I thought we needed to buy something to place at Austyn’s memorial upon arriving. We agreed that each of us would put $1,000 ($2,000 total) in an envelope, and we would buy flowers for the memorial. Andrew had a four-hour drive from his home, and I had a two-hour drive from my home to get to Port Neches.
I left The Woodlands just after 9 to start the drive. I made a brief stop at a Buc-ee’s along the way and a text appeared. It was Andrew asking me how I liked my coffee. I thought this was strange because he was nowhere near me, but I responded that I drink my coffee black. I got into my car and continued the drive.
About 15 miles from Beaumont, it started to rain lightly. Just a small set of clouds above me were the cause, but you could see sunshine everywhere else. The forecast called for rain throughout the day, so it was no surprise that there were some sprinkles.
Then, I spot the faintest rainbow in the distance.
This would prove to be significant later in the day.
I arrived at the Market Basket supermarket around 11:15 a.m., and Andrew arrived shortly thereafter. He had purchased two beautiful poinsettia plants, and we each put our money in the envelope. I grabbed the framed certificate and paperwork for the cruise giveaway, and we drove to the cemetery.
There’s an 80 percent chance of survival at St. Jude. We are part of the 20 percent. The only voice my daughter Austyn has left is us. — Sarah Halter
The Halters arrived and texted Andrew that they were in a silver truck, which we spotted immediately upon entering the cemetery. After a brief introduction, we walked straight to the memorial and placed the poinsettia plants on each side of Austyn’s tombstone. Andrew asked Josh and Sarah how they were doing. It was obviously still very difficult for them to talk about their daughter.
That moment would be the first of my many tears.
Josh and Sarah then handed Andrew and I a cup of coffee from Starbucks (ah, that’s why Andrew needed to know how I liked my coffee), and they gave Andrew some gifts for Christmas. I recognized one of the packages as being the size of the book that was recently published about their daughter. The name of the book is, “Be Brave To Be Fearless,” by Stacy Trimble. The Halters explained that all proceeds go toward the fight against childhood cancer (if you wish to purchase the book and donate, click here).
After some chitchat about the area, Andrew asked me to share with Josh and Sarah why we were there. I told them about the events leading up to the APTC fundraiser for St. Jude. As embarrassing as it was, I choked up several times just letting them know how often we thought of them and Austyn.
I told them that we had won the Carnival Cruise for two, but we requested it be put in their names. It’s good for one-year to any destination for any period of time and consists of an Oceanview Stateroom. I then gave them the envelope with the $2,000 cash to assist them with any additional expenses they may incur on the trip they choose.
I explained that the manila envelope contained the required paperwork they would need to fill out, along with a copy of the flyer showing our efforts in honor of Austyn.
Finally, I told them that Andrew and I would cover any amount should they exceed the amount being given to them. Andrew said he wanted them to have no expenses out of their pocket in relation to the cruise.
Sarah was crying, and Josh just looked at the ground.
We all hugged as they thanked us for their gift, and both explained that they had never been on a cruise.
Yep, I was crying again.
We talked a while longer and found out that Josh has made a career change and is now a fireman in the area. Sarah has returned to work as a nurse. Josh explained that he felt a need to do something that helps others, just as others have done for them. During that exchange, I noticed a neon-yellow lady bug crawling on Andrew’s shirt. I said to him, “that’s a good sign, Boss!”
When I looked at Josh and Sarah, they were both smiling. Sarah excused herself and ran to the car. When she returned, she handed me a button that had a picture of Austyn on it with a saying, “Forever in our hearts.” It also had a logo I recognized, the one emblazoned on Andrew’s golf bag, that reads “#AustynStrong.”
I immediately put the button on the left side of my shirt, right by my heart. I fully intend on carrying this button in Andrew’s tour bag in every event we play as a reminder of the fact that we play a game, and there are far more important aspects of life than golf.
Coffee and a button with Austyn’s picture — I couldn’t think of better Christmas gifts!
I have never met two stronger people than Josh and Sarah. I cannot even come close to knowing what it would be like to lose an only child.
When we asked where the strength comes from, Sarah told us, “There’s an 80 percent chance of survival at St. Jude. We are part of the 20 percent. The only voice my daughter Austyn has left is us. That’s why our mission will forever be to share our daughter’s courageous battle, spread love and strength and kindness wherever we go, and give back to the organizations who share our same goal… to end childhood cancer once and for all.”
Just before we left, I was speaking to Josh about my morning and how I spotted a faint rainbow just west of town before we arrived, and that I said to myself earlier in the morning, the only thing missing from the storm that moved through The Woodlands was a rainbow.
Josh pulled up a picture on his cellphone. He was leaving St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital one day when something told him to turn around. When he did, there was a vivid, brightly colored rainbow over the center of the entrance after a heavy rainstorm.
Sarah and Josh smiled at each other, and Sarah said, “We call rainbows ‘kisses from heaven,’ and that goes for lady bugs, too!”
By the way, the sun shined on us the whole time – no rain!