Streelman helps make Masters wish come true

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jennifer Couch first noticed some irregular behavior in her 11-year-old son, Ethan, two years ago. His hands trembled. His feet were sore. His balance was so poor that he struggled to put on his pants and tie his shoes.

She took him to see their pediatrician on a Friday. Her voice quivering, she explained her concerns. By the time she offered her own diagnosis, tears were rolling down her cheeks.

Between sobs, Jennifer told the doctor, "I think he's going to need brain surgery."

Tests confirmed their deepest fears. Ethan had a tectal glioma. A brain tumor was blocking his body's ability to circulate spinal cord fluid, causing hydrocephalus and all of the other symptoms in his behavior.

Four days later, he underwent surgery. Doctors discovered that the tumor, though benign, was inoperable. There was nothing they could do but continue monitoring him on a regular basis.

When Ethan awoke from the surgery, a nurse entered his room. "I heard you were a champ," she told him. "So I want you to go home and think of a wish. Pick anything."

He didn't need to go home to think. This was a boy who'd been carried around the golf course by Jennifer as a newborn while his father, Jeff, a former golf professional near their home in Spruce Grove, Alberta, would play nine holes. He'd grown to love the game. And so when offered one wish by that nurse, Ethan didn't hesitate.

"I want to go to the Masters," he said.

Kevin Streelman didn't know this story when he called Ethan on the morning of March 7, two days after his 13th birthday. The truth is, he knew absolutely nothing about Ethan, besides the fact that the boy had a wish to attend the year's biggest golf tournament and he wanted to make that wish come true.

This week marks Streelman's fourth Masters appearance. The first time he played, in 2011, he invited his father to caddie for him in the traditional Par 3 Contest. The next time, his mother got the call. Last year, it was his father-in-law.

Not long after qualifying again by winning the Travelers Championship, Streelman decided he wanted to offer the opportunity to someone who really deserved it. His daughter, Sophia, was born the previous December amidst pregnancy complications. She'd spent seven days in the NICU before coming home. Enduring that afforded him a matured perspective.

"That changed a lot of the ways I see children," he says. "I have an entirely new appreciation for what parents with children having tough times are going through."

Streelman contacted his local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He asked if there were any kids who had a wish to attend the Masters.

Soon enough, he was calling Ethan with an offer.

"Yeah, I know who you are," the boy replied when the pro golfer introduced himself.

He didn't know why he was calling, though.

Streelman explained that, as a Masters competitor, he was allowed to choose his caddie for Wednesday's event. He was choosing Ethan.

The boy fell silent. His parents, each listening over speaker phone, began crying. When Ethan finally spoke, his voice was shaking.

"I just wanted to go to the Masters," he'd later say. "I didn't expect this."

He's now in Augusta, along with his entire family, two years removed from making his Masters wish, preparing to wear the famous white jumpsuit given to all caddies.

The boy who owns a career-low score of 82 won't be bashful in the role, either.

"I'll definitely make sure he's hitting the right club," he says with a confident laugh.

As Ethan spends the afternoon with Streelman, he won't worry about the brain tumor. He won't worry about the MRI he'll undergo next week or the unknown long-term prognosis.

He'll be too focused on having his wish come true.

As for the man alongside him, he's just hoping to brighten the life of a kid who could use it.

"I just want to open the door to someone and hopefully give him a great day after going through some rough times," Streelman says. "This isn't about me. It's about giving back. It's about using the opportunity that I have to make someone's wish come true."