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‘The Doctors Didn’t Think I’d Live’: Leonie Harm's unbelievable journey to pro golfer

June 07, 2023
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Brendan Moran

The last thing I remember is my mom saying goodnight to me on that Thursday. I woke up five days later. The doctors didn’t think I’d live, let alone become a professional golfer.

My parents wanted a sport they could play with my brother and me. They tried golf and loved it. I was tall, so I hit it far immediately. I started playing competitively when I was 10. We joined St. Leon-Rot, a club an hour and 20 minutes north of my hometown in Germany because the practice facilities were so good, and they supported junior golfers. My parents raised us to set goals and to find joy in life through purpose. The mentality in our house was simple: If you have the opportunity to get something done, why wouldn’t you get it done?

When I was 15, I started to play more internationally. I wanted to become the best junior in Europe. I started waking up at 5 a.m. to run. I did it to be fit for golf but also because I didn’t like how I looked. I felt horribly overweight. I look at pictures now, and I don’t see myself like that.

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jeff wilson

The stoplights in our town didn’t turn on until 6 a.m. That Friday, I crossed the street on a blinking light when a car was coming at 45 miles per hour. Maybe I didn’t see the car. The driver saw me but didn’t react. She was drunk. She hit me full speed. I flew over the car, hitting the concrete. None of it made it into my long-term memory.

I landed in front of a woman who was on her way to the bus stop. She was a trained German military paramedic and knew exactly what to do when someone landed at her feet, bleeding out of her ears. She talked to me so that my brain didn’t shut off. Another witness called an ambulance. They got there quickly but didn’t think I’d survive.

At the hospital, I was put into a medical coma. After a day, my vitals were stabilizing. Keeping me in the coma risked long-term damage, so they woke me up. Nobody knew what the extent of my brain damage would be, or if I’d be able to walk again. Somehow, I was OK. The first question I asked was if I could play in the German Girls’ Championship, which was a few weeks away. I had no idea how bad things were.

My fractured left ankle required surgery. My hip was broken. I had broken ribs, collapsed lungs and a basilar skull fracture. My inner left ear imploded because I had a broken petrous bone—one of the hardest bones in the body. I had hematomas in my brain and a severe concussion. In the aftermath, my mom spoke with the driver on the phone. I don’t know what happened to her. She battled addiction. I don’t blame her for what happened. I hope the accident sparked positive change in her life.

I was frustrated. Right when I was on the verge of doing great things in golf, I had to stop and let my body heal. I spent two and a half weeks in the hospital. Five weeks later I got the boot off my left ankle and started playing again.

My first tournament back was the British Girls. My inner ear wasn’t fully healed. It got badly infected in the wind. I withdrew and had ear surgery. Since then, it feels like I have an earplug in my ear. My balance is also permanently affected. I can’t ride a bike. I learned how to play with it, focusing on rhythm, weight shift and ground connection. When the wind is coming off the left, I tend to fall forward a bit in my follow-through.

In 2014, my mom was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer. Doctors said there wasn’t much they could do; research into her type of cancer is limited. That felt wrong, and I wanted to work in the field to fix it. I chose to attend the University of Houston because they said I could study anything. I started in 2016 and studied biochemistry to get into cancer research.

After my first semester, I lost my mom, the most important person in the world to me. I was heartbroken and barely sleeping. Leaning on the values my parents taught me pulled me out of it. I know she’d want me to work hard toward my goals. I climbed up the World Amateur Golf Ranking, reaching No. 4, the highest of any German golfer ever.

I turned pro after graduating in 2019, played three events, and then the pandemic started. The Ladies European Tour paused the season. I got an internship at CureVac, where they work on vaccine development. As much as I loved it, I’m not ready to commit to that life. I want to get onto the LPGA Tour. In 2022, I failed to qualify through the LPGA Q Series. Now, I’m a rookie on the Epson Tour, where the top-10 players on the money list earn LPGA Tour cards. Money out here is tight.

After the accident, I learned that life could be over at any time, and we have to be OK with that. I want to live my life making the best decision I can in each moment. That way, whenever it ends, I’ll be content and proud of where I am. I’m not afraid of dying.