Among the stories that will play out this week during the 2013 BMW Championship, now underway at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill, perhaps the most thrilling and inspiring is the one that takes place off the tournament fairways. It is about how the BMW Championship, the penultimate event in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, benefits
exceptional youth who earn the opportunity to attend college.
Seventy of the world’s best golfers, including Tiger, Phil Mickelson, last year’s BMW Championship winner Rory McElroy, 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, and Conway Farms member Luke Donald, are competing in the BMW Championship. Thirty will advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta, which runs Sept. 19-22.
All proceeds from the BMW Championship benefit the Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides full college tuition and housing scholarships to male and female caddies of modest means. More than 9,800 caddies have graduated as Evans Scholars. Since BMW became a sponsor in 2007, the tournament has raised $14 million for the program.
To earn the honor of being named an Evans Scholar, caddies must satisfy several requirements beyond financial need and superior caddying. The most important, noted John Fix, a trustee of the Evans Scholar Foundation, is an excellent academic record. The 850 Evans Scholars who are currently attending 19 of the country’s top colleges have an average grade point average above 4.0. “We are very proud of that record,” he told Millionaire Corner.
Jim O’Keane, Treasurer of the Western Golf Association, was himself one of those kids who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to college without the Evans scholarship, he said. He became aware of the scholarship from high school classmates who caddied at a golf course seven miles from his home. “I quickly realized this was perhaps one of the few ways that I would be able to go to college,” he said. I spent two years caddying (at the club), spent a year working in shoeshine room and then graduated to “the porch,” the refreshment stand between the ninth green and tenth tee. Those were four great years. After being fortunate enough to be awarded the scholarship, I went to the University of Wisconsin, where I made lifelong friends, and was launched on a career in banking.:
The Evans Scholarship was established by golfer Charles “Chick” Evans, one of the most celebrated amateur golfers of the 1910s and 1920s. He was the first amateur to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in one year. Evans, a former caddy, had not finished college and with a desire to give back to the game, he decided to start a foundation that would send worthy caddies to college. The WGA administers the Evans Scholars Foundation.
O’Keane said he is impressed with the caliber of those who are applying to become Evans Scholars. “The alumni joke that given the qualifications and the caliber of the applications today, we would never have been awarded the scholarship (ourselves) because we wouldn’t match up. The thing that impresses me the most about these applicants is that they have overcome tremendous personal odds, including single parents and health issues within the family, and yet their academic records are outstanding and their extra curriculars are off the charts. If you are worried about the youth of America today, you need to come to a selection meeting and have your fears assuaged.”
Yesenia Juarez, currently a junior at Northwestern, is just one of the shining examples. She credits being an Evans Scholar with opening doors for her. “It has meant the world to me,” she said. “It’s not just about getting us through college, it is about getting us through life in every respect.”
Juarez attended Marian Catholic School in Chicago Heights. When lung cancer took her father’s life, the family faced the prospect of having to pull Juarez and her two sisters out of the private school. She credits her principal with finding her a school sponsor who had helped other children in need stay in school their benefactor was a retired judge, James Schreier, who fatefully helped her land a job as a caddie at Beverly Country Club..
“It was a whole new world for me,” she told Millionaire Corner, “but I got to know the game and have grown to love it.”
From her mother, she said, she learned to push herself and work hard, and that the most difficult things can be the most rewarding in life. Today, she is an education major and pursuing her dream job of being a Chicago-area teacher. This is her way of giving back to the educators who were among her role models.
She is also giving back to the Evans Scholars Foundation by serving as a mentor for its fledgling Caddie Academy Program, which, for seven weeks in the summer, provides 14 economically disadvantaged high school women opportunities to caddie at WGA-affiliated clubs on Chicago’s North Shore. Their experience is the first step in becoming potential applicants for an Evans Scholarship.
There are fun perks to being an Evans Scholar. Prior to the Championship, Juarez was invited to a press event at the Great America amusement park where she got to race a BMW around a track.
But it is the game-changing opportunities that are the program’s enduring legacy. These range from learning life lessons on the golf course from accomplished golfers. “Once, I caddieor a person who went to Northwestern Law,” Juarez recalled. “He told me that whatever I do in life, pick something that I love and I would go far.”
There are no words, she said, for describing what being an Evans Scholar has meant to her. “It has changed my life,” Juarez said. “When people ask who am I and what’s my story, the first thing I say is I’m an Evans Scholar.”
To support the Evans Scholar Foundation, you can make a donation through its Par Club. Click here for more information.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.