Prior to the 2019 Valero Texas Open, Jordan Spieth, with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the PGA TOUR, gave cancer patient Alex Trevino, Jr. a special inside-the-ropes experience before he was brought in as an official Titleist team member.
While it’s not uncommon for Titleist to sign players, for a golfer, it’s one of life’s most celebrated achievements. After all, Titleist is among the most recognized brand names in all of golf. Some may go so far as to call it life-changing.
As one of the most outgoing and friendly players on the PGA TOUR, it’s not uncommon for folks to have the opportunity to rub elbows with 11-time PGA TOUR winner and 2015 FedExCup champion Jordan Spieth. To some, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience in itself.
For one young man making his way through life the best way he can, life-changing and once-in-a-lifetime experiences became one Tuesday at the Valero Texas Open.
This is the story of how it came to be and how it will sustain Alex Trevino, Jr. through the rest of his life.
People who make the decision to go at life alone are one of two types. Most are naïve and eventually stand down. The unwavering others forge ahead with a rare level of courage so astounding that it will define them until they’ve delivered their last breath.
It’s a story of despair or repair. The thing is, though, who is who can only be truly determined when faced with life’s most challenging elements.
Texas native Alex Trevino found himself at one of those most difficult crossroads in September of 2017. That was the first time. He proved to be among the courageous few. And, he had yet to celebrate his 15th birthday.
Alex began experiencing pain in the back of his neck. Instead of it going away, the pain proved to be almost unbearable. So, too, would be the news.
“We went to his pediatrician, we went to emergency rooms, and we got all kinds of tests done,” said Alex’s father, Alex. “The last thing we imagined is that it was cancer.”
Barely a teenager, Alex was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma. The hardest thing to imagine had become a stark, glaring reality.
“At the beginning, they thought it was a fracture or something,” said Alex’s mother, Madai. “But, it was one of the rarest forms of cancer, especially in kids. And, because it was in the C‑2 vertebrae, the doctors didn't think it was going to be a tumor.”
Doctors, sadly, were wrong. But, in May, after starting treatment shortly after the diagnosis, Alex’s cancer went into remission. He and his family clung to hope.
As fate would have it, in November of 2018, Alex was again diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma. This time, though, it had metastasized into his lungs.
“It was very hard the first time, but even harder the second time,” Madai said. “When you overcome the first time, you have to realize you will be going through everything again, with no assurance that you will make it out.”
Alex took to the game of golf at a young age and became quite a player. He was well on his way to big things within the game as a teenager when news of his illness broke. But, with a determined spirit, he made it through the first setback.
“Alex just started to get his health and his strength back where he was able to perform the way he wanted, and he finally was even able to win a tournament,” said Alex Sr. “Then, the second diagnosis came about, so he knew he was going to have to cut back.”
“It was hard for him when they told him the results of the CAT scans,” said Madai. “He decided to be strong again and fight and keep fighting. But, it was hard, because he was back into golf and even on the team.”
Alex underwent surgery to remove the biopsy, but the doctors had to cut the muscle, making it challenging to swing a club. Recently, though, doctors told him he can start practicing again.
“He’s limited,” said Alex Sr. “He’s able to putt and chip. He’s physically able to, and he tries, but chemotherapy attacks your blood cells and he gets fatigued along the way. He’s just vulnerable. We try to limit that vulnerability for him to be able to stay healthy and continue the treatment, and hopefully, get the best results.”
As opposed to taking treatments three weeks apart, Alex decided his best chance for survival would be to compress them into two-week intervals. What that meant was that very strong medicine was inside his young body continuously.
“He was prepared just like a golfer would be in the sense that he knew what he had to do, what he had to eat, how to take his medicine,” said Alex Sr. “He knew exactly what he had to do in order to reach that goal every two weeks.”
Courage aside, not many people – especially kids – could conjure the fortitude Alex did to increase every chance of survival.
Then again, not every kid is Alex Trevino. On his terms, Alex was going at life alone.
“I’ll tell you a story as to why he did it,” said Alex Sr. “He played team sports and he was really good. But, they were team sports. So, if he committed an error in baseball or someone didn’t get the out needed, his feeling was that he let the team down or because of another’s error, he didn’t feel as if his work made a difference. I told him it was a team sport. I told him that golf is an individual sport, and you have nobody else to blame or let down.’"
The words resonated with the young man.
“He said he wanted to go to golf because he didn’t want to have to depend on anybody,” said Madai. “I remember him saying, ‘I think I can do it myself. If I'm going to lose it, it will be for me making my own mistake, not for anybody else making a mistake for me.’ That’s why he loves golf. He loves it because it’s only him against the course, and he can’t blame anybody else. He likes to be that type of individual. So, it’s just a natural fit for him, the way his character is.”
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and in conjunction with the PGA TOUR, Alex was treated to a VIP experience at the Valero Texas Open on Tuesday which, among other things, featured one-on-one time with Spieth, who finished second in his first start at TPC San Antonio in 2015.
“I’m touched that when it’s presented to someone, to Make-A-Wish for something, that they would like to involve me,” Spieth said. “But, at the same time, it really puts things into perspective, especially when you think about someone going through what Alex is. If we can be a part of him finding a day that brings him a lot of joy, it will go a long way …not only for him, but for us. We take a lot away from these kinds of things, too.”
“He’s been through the three rounds of chemo this time around, with 13 remaining,” said Alex Sr. “This day is such a good way for him to make a goal of us coming back out here and either playing this course or being here next year as spectators. He’ll have that in his mind, and it will help drive him and help him go through all of the treatments.”
In addition to walking several holes with Spieth during Tuesday’s practice round – and even draining a few impressive putts – Alex was also taken to the Titleist equipment truck for what he was told would be a quick tour. It was there where, to his surprise, he was officially signed to the Titleist team.
“It means a lot because he’s going to get more encouraged to keep going, to keep fighting the fight,” said Madai. “This will be his reason to keep going, because this treatment is harder than the first one. He doesn’t show it, but it’s very hard on him. He’s going to be a lot better for this experience. He’s going to say, ‘I want to do that, I’m going to be there in the future. I’m going to be there for real.’”
“I got word that he was close to not even being able to come out here,” said Spieth. “So, the fact that he is here and doing all he is doing today is amazing. I mean, he is out here, walking holes, asking questions and just talking about only positive things. That’s got to be so difficult to do, especially at his age. But, what it does is speak so much to how strong-willed he is.”
As part of his VIP experience Tuesday, Alex and his family were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Valero Texas Open media center. It included a special, impromptu press conference where Alex was asked to make a few comments. He sat in the chair reserved for each year’s tournament champion.
“I’d like to thank my family,” he said. “They have given me a lot more than I have given them.”
Alex Trevino, Jr. may have made the choice to face this part of his life on his own as best as he can. However, he would hard-pressed to find anyone, family or friend, who would agree with him that he hasn’t given them just as much.
“He’s so easy to have as a kid,” said Alex Sr. “I feel like we should not even get credit, because he’s just naturally that person and naturally that strong‑willed. Right now, he has it in his mind that he’s going to beat it again. So, we’re just along for the ride with him.”
In a text message Tuesday night to a PGA TOUR staff member, Alex wrote a note of thanks, calling it “one of the most amazing days of my life.”
Memorable as it was, it’s also fitting for a kid like Alex to refer to it as one of the most amazing days of his life, but not the best.
The most amazing day of his life, he knows, will be tomorrow. And, the best one after that will be the next day.
The most amazing day of Alex Trevino, Jr.’s life will always be tomorrow.