The heartbreaking story of Sophie Gustafson and a fellow stutterer, and what she's doing to help him
One of the bravest people I know is my friend Sophie Gustafson who, despite a severe stutter, has carved out a two-decade career in the very public life of professional golf. Talented, smart, funny and beautiful, she's a perfect marketing machine for women's golf, and for her own personal brand -- except for that damn stutter.
Still, she's waded through media interviews, pro-am rounds and victory speeches to win five times on the LPGA, 16 more on the Ladies European Tour and has represented Europe eight times in the Solhiem Cup.
Several years ago, I had the honor of presenting her with the Ben Hogan Award, voted on by the Golf Writers Association of America for a person in golf who overcame adversity.
"I keep re-reading his mum's email to me and trying to figure out the best way to go about helping the kid," Sophie wrote. "The mum asked me if there is anyone I knew that could help share his story. You are a journalist and a writer but I'm not sure how much of a story it is. A kid that's different and that gets teased is happening every day, everywhere."
*(Pictured: Gustafson with Sirak) *
Yes, Sophie, kids everywhere that are different do get teased and bullying is an issue that is just now getting the attention it deserves. That is exactly why we must tell this story.
Sophie shared with me the email she received from the boy's mother.
"Wanted to give you update," the Mom wrote. "Things had been going well for awhile. He played football for the first time this year, however, he was teased about his stuttering and quit the team. He has really been struggling lately, feeling lonely due to the really does not have any close friends."
"On the week of April 16th, he had a bad week, he had been teased about his stuttering. That evening, he attempted suicide. He yelled downstairs 'Good bye, I love you.' Me and my husband immediately ran upstairs, his bedroom door was locked, we busted down the door and he was sitting on the window and was getting ready to jump. We were able to grab him and keep him from going head first onto the concrete below."
As a parent who had to tell his then 7-year-old daughter that her mother would not be coming home from the hospital, I know all too well that feeling of helplessness when you want to make the world better and safer for your child.
"It breaks my heart that he is so lonely and continues to get teased about his stuttering," the Mom wrote. "I am writing to ask you, do you have anyone that could help us share his story and help us find something to encourage him and help him see that he has a positive future?"
Maybe that's me. Maybe I can give a voice to this boy and millions of others like him who are the victims of bullying. Maybe that is why Sophie came into my life a dozen years ago.
I've sat in restaurants and bars with Sophie and watched as she insists on ordering herself. And I've watched the expressions on the faces of the servers as they concentrate on her words, some more patiently than others.
But Sophie was always going to do it her way, on her own. There is no better role model for a youngster struggling with a stutter and bullying than Sophie Gustafson.
"He continues to love to watch golf and is still a fan of Tiger," the Mom wrote. "Is there anyway we could get his story to Tiger and see if he could help find something encouraging for [him] to look forward to?"
Yes, I will make certain Tiger knows this boy is a fan.
"I am just devastated by this and do not know where to turn next," the Mom said. "I never thought [he] would attempt suicide, but he told me he feels worthless and small when kids say things to him."
I'm very proud of Sophie, and very grateful that she shared this story with me. Golf cannot change the world, but golfers can.
Bullying is a serious problem. Join Sophie and me in shouting with one united, clear voice that we will not tolerate our children being treated that way.
Let's give this boy, and millions like him, something to look forward to.