There’s always a lot going on on the first day of the
Philadelphia Amateur. There’s 120 or so golfers playing two rounds at two
different golf course and at the end of the day, weather permitting, there will
be 32 of the Philadelphia area’s very best players advancing to match play.
So when you first arrive, you’re just staring at the scoreboard
trying to figure out what’s going on. That’s where I first met Stephen
Giampietro on Day 1 at Llanerch Country Club last summer. He was asking if
anybody knew about where Chris Fuga would be on the course at that point. As
the Golf Association of Philadelphia official manning the scoreboard tried to
figure out about where Fuga would be, I checked his name on the scoreboard and
it listed him as being an Overbrook member.
The name rang a bell from covering high school golf and GAP
events, but he was St. Pius X in high school and Phoenixville Country Club, so
he wasn’t “mine.” That’s the way you think when you’re covering an event like
that for a paper like the Daily Times.
OK, he’s Overbrook now, he’s on my radar.
I asked the gentleman how long Fuga had been at Overbrook. I
was guessing it was his dad, but I later learned he was Fuga’s uncle. He said,
“Do you know about Chris?”
“No, tell me,” the nosy reporter answered.
I listened, I’m sure increasingly wide-eyed, as his uncle
told me that Chris was near death this time last year after being diagnosed
with leukemia. That he had a bone-marrow transplant at Temple’s Fox Chase
Cancer Center in August. He had shot 73 in the morning at Rolling Green. He was
in the process of shooting 2-under 69 in the afternoon at Llanerch. It was 90
degrees. He was 10 months removed from a bone marrow transplant. Are you
“In the newspaper business, we call that a story,” I said to
Giampietro when he finished.
And what a story it turned out to be as Fuga finished tied
for third in qualifying and would make it all the way to the semifinals before
falling to eventual champion Cole Berman, the three-time Daily Times Player of the Year at The Haverford School.
Which is why my heart sank last week when, in my regular
scanning of the Internet to see how former Delco high school kids are doing in
college, I discovered that Chris Fuga had died Oct. 30 at age 24.
It turns out that Fuga had fallen ill again in the hours
following his loss to Berman in the Philly Am semifinals. The leukemia had
returned and he would spend the rest of
June and most of July in the hospital and have another bone marrow transplant.
But Fuga bounced back again. He actually was doing well until
he was hit with an infection the Sunday before Halloween, an infection his
immune system, weakened by all the anti-cancer drugs he had taken, could not
fight off. By Friday he was gone.
I talked to his dad Mark last week, his emotions still
“He was talking about going back to Coker (College) for the
spring, the last time I talked to him he was like, ‘It’s OK dad, I got this,
I’ll be OK,’” Mark Fuga said.
Chris Fuga had been one of the top players at Coker, in
South Carolina, before missing the 2014-2015 season while recovering from the
first bone marrow transplant. At the Philly Am, he was planning to go back for
his senior season.
Oscar Mestre, a longtime Overbrook member, had invited Fuga
to gain membership through the club’s President’s Pick scholarship. That’s how
he ended up helping Overbrook reach the final four of Division AA, the top tier
in GAP’s Team Matches, in the spring.
At Llanerch, he couldn’t have been more complimentary of the
way in which he had been accepted at Overbrook.
“It was a six-and-a-half hour wake,” Mark Fuga said. “The
president of Coker came up here with a posthumous degree. People came from
Overbrook. People came from everywhere. Chris never wanted to be the center of
attention. It was an amazing tribute to him the way everybody came to pay their
One of the things that struck me about Chris Fuga that week
at Llanerch was how much he enjoyed just being there. The Philadelphia Amateur,
he told me, was his favorite tournament. He had reached the quarterfinals two
years earlier at Aronimink.
And there he was at Llanerch in the semifinals. He ran into
the only person more determined that he was that week in Berman. And even then,
Fuga won the 10th and 11th holes, to take a 1-up lead on
Berman before the three-time GAP Junior Player of the Year surged back to win
the match, 2 and 1.
There was no shortage of story lines at Llanerch that week
for the guy covering the tournament for the Delco Daily Times. First of all, it was Llanerch, one of three Delco
courses to stage a major professional championship, the 1958 PGA Championship,
along with Aronimink (1962 PGA Championship) and the five U.S. Opens at Merion’s
There was the dream matchup in the second round of
match play between Michael McDermott, who grew up at Llanerch, and Jeff Osberg,
a former Llanerch member. It was a tremendous match between the two best mid-am
players in the Philadelphia area for the last decade-plus and their Llanerch
connection had quite a few of the membership sneaking away from
work early on a Wednesday to catch some of
And there was the final between Berman and Michael Davis,
who were only a year removed from the Inter-Ac League battles I had covered for
four years with Berman at Haverford School and Davis at Malvern Prep.
I asked Chris Fuga’s dad for a picture to add to this post
and it is that same smile that I remember that week at Llanerch. He loved the
Philly Am because he knew that if you were good enough to reach the semifinals
in this tournament, you were a player. You could play.
“Anybody, 1 to 32, is good enough to win this once match
play starts,” he said.
He loved the game and he was very thankful that week that
Dr. Henry Chi Hang Fung at the Temple Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Bone Marrow
Transplant program had given him a reprieve and he was going to make the most
It’s Thanksgiving week and we always like to talk about what
we’re thankful for. And I guess I’m thankful that Chris Fuga came along and
reminded me how much I love the game. Just like he did.
The Philly Am is at Merion next year. Chris Fuga would have