Maria Fassi's family experience with disabilities led her to start inclusive golf programs for kids
Maria Fassi was inspired to start providing opportunities for kids in golf after her cousin, Josephina (right), who suffers from several disabilities, had a hard time finding an instructor and golf courses in play in Argeninta. (Photo courtesy of Maria Fassi Instagram)
Four-year LPGA Tour veteran Maria Fassi created the foundation Fassi’s Friends in 2021 to introduce golf to both disabled and non-disabled kids for free. The road to forming the foundation started at the 2014 Mexican Amateur Championship when Fassi witnessed one of the most impactful swings of her life. Fassi's disabled cousin, Josefina Gomez, who is deaf, mute and suffers from partial brain paralysis, made contact with a ball on the range for the first time after being inspired by watching Fassi play.
“From then, there was nothing else that she wanted to do other than go out and play golf,” Fassi said.
But instead of an easy opportunity for Gomez, who is the same age as Fassi, to chase her newfound love, Fassi’s family had to battle to give her a chance to play. After returning home to Argentina, they started trying to find a teacher for Gomez.
It took 10 instructors to find one comfortable to teach Gomez. They tried four courses before finding one that let Gomez play.
"The specifics of what kind of foundation I wanted to start, only came about because of Josefina," Fassi said.
Fassi's Friends wants to ensure no one goes through what her cousin had to overcome.
The foundation runs two weekly classes out of Northwest Arkansas's First Tee in Lowell, Ark. It keeps the 24-year-old close to her University of Arkansas college roots, as the foundation sits 15 miles from Fassi’s former campus in Fayetteville. Kids up to 17 years old participate at the par-3 course. More than 250 have gone through the foundation.
Maria Fassi works with kids at the Northwest Arkansas First Tee program. (Photo courtesy of Maria Fassi Instagram)
The program they teach emphasizes the importance of being a good person first. For example, the instructors asked the kids to explain respect in a recent class. Then, they had a short game competition. Afterward, they asked the group how they were respectful towards each other while playing.
"We want to make sure that these kids leave our sessions being better people before they're better golfers," Fassi said.
The foundation's leader sets the example. Whenever Fassi isn't on the road competing on the LPGA, she assists with the classes.
Even Fassi’s tour trips further fuel the success of the foundation. She hears from fans asking about what Fassi’s Friends and many have signed up for her birdie drive this season, donating a fixed amount for every birdie Fassi makes on the LPGA. Given the foundation's growth and successful partnerships, Fassi plans to start two more locations in 2023.
"Professional golf is the avenue that's kind of helping me achieve this dream of creating a more equal, well-represented world,” Fassi said. “I think that we have a mission in life, and I think mine is to give back and to help people."
The foundation's tagline is "Make it Worthwhile," a motto Fassi's family told themselves when they got to spend time together. That mantra applies to the mentality Fassi's Friends wants to instill in the kids who come through the program and Fassi's aspirations for what the foundation could become. After opening as many Fassi's Friends locations as possible, she wants to utilize the program's success to help get golf into the Paralympics.
"While, of course, I want to be a top player in the world, and I want to win tournaments, and I want to do all these things, I think that the bottom line in what I'm truly passionate about is the foundation, “Fassi said. “I'm just grateful that I get to do both things that I love."