SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jordan Spieth missed the fairway left at the opening hole of Wednesday’s WM Phoenix Open pro-am, his ball settling amidst the desert tufts. His second shot tracked on-line but flew just over the green, setting up a slippery downhill chip shot. Just 20 minutes into the round, it was an ample dose of the Jordan Spieth Experience for fans in attendance at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, including 15-year-old Sonny Sciantarelli.
“You’re not going to know what to expect when you watch him,” Sciantarelli said. “He could birdie a hole and then get a bogey, and then be out-of-bounds and make par somehow. It’s really cool watching him.”
On this morning, Spieth had a twist up his sleeve. He brought in Sciantarelli, a Texas high school freshman who would play golf 24/7 if he could, to hit the chip shot. Spieth talked him through the shot, which Sciantarelli played to perfection with a feathery touch; the ball released down the slope and settled 6 feet past the hole. Spieth was duly impressed. “That’s good if you want it,” he quipped of the impending par try.
Sciantarelli has defied the odds to reach this point, making Wednesday all the sweeter.
“I just love the quietness of golf, but also the amount of thinking you need to play golf … how you can think about what you’re going to do, and then when you pull it off, how satisfying that is to do,” said Sciantarelli, after deftly executing that slippery chip shot among dozens of fans. Sciantarelli had been anticipating this day at the WM Phoenix Open for some time, and his wish was fulfilled via the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the PGA TOUR.
“Probably one of the best days I’ve ever had,” he said. “I get to do what I’ve been wanting to do forever.”
Sciantarelli, an avid Texas Longhorns fan who lives near the University of Texas Golf Club, was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, on March 12, 2022. The road ahead was fierce: Check into the hospital on Wednesday, undergo multiple rounds of chemotherapy daily for six straight days, then check out on Monday night. Two Wednesdays later, check back in. This continued for four or five months.
Golf was Sciantarelli's light through the gauntlet. He poured himself into the game; after just two days on the couch following a chemo treatment, he’d be on the course. The doctors couldn’t believe he had the energy to play at all, let alone 18 or 27 holes a day. But the game offered tangible goals and daily motivation to strive for improvement, and he continually defied the odds. During a gap between treatments, the family traveled to Arizona to watch the Longhorns compete at the men’s golf 2022 NCAA Championship, the team including twins Pierceson and Parker Coody. “Sonny Strong” was inscribed on bracelets worn by the team, in addition to Pierceson Coody’s wedges and putter. Texas won the title.
“Getting to know Sonny the last couple months has just been, as cliché as it is, eye-opening,” Pierceson told Golfweek at the time. “He’s fighting so hard for things that a lot of us never imagined, and I think he’s a big reason for why we saw such a big turnaround in our play and consistency. I feel like we were all fighting a little bit harder knowing that he cares so much about how hard we play and who we are. He’s meant the world to us.”
Sciantarelli has continued to fight, both against lymphoma and on the golf course. His handicap is down to a 3, and he thrived in high school golf last fall (one highlight: he went undefeated at a match-play event). He recently completed an 18-month checkup, after undergoing four or five months of intense chemotherapy through spring and summer 2022. The two-year point, later this summer, is known as the “all clear,” a key milestone.