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Friday, December 23, 2016

Christopher Fuga Memorial Member-Guest Classic a Phoenixville story

   There was a pretty neat item on the Golf Association of Philadelphia website concerning the Member-Guest this summer at Phoenixville Country Club.
   The Member-Guest is a big deal at every country club and I’m sure that is the case at Phoenixville. And this summer the membership renamed the event in honor of one of its deceased members. It was, for the first time this summer, the Christopher Fuga Memorial Member-Guest Classic.
   Fuga was a scholastic standout at St. Pius X and played collegiately at Coker College in South Carolina. He was diagnosed with leukemia in the spring of 2014 and underwent a bone marrow transplant that summer. By the summer of 2015, less than a year after the bone marrow transplant, Fuga had recovered sufficiently to tee it up in GAP’s BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship, reaching the semifinals at Llanerch Country Club before falling to eventual champion Cole Berman.
   The leukemia came back later that summer and, after another bone marrow transplant, Fuga appeared to be again on the road to recovery when his body, weakened by the cancer treatments, was unable to fight off an infection. He died Oct. 30 of last year at 24.
   Chris’ dad Mark had been a regular in the Member-Guest field at Phoenixville over the years along with his cousin Guy Giampietro. This summer Mark Fuga thought it would be a nice touch to use Chris’ clubs for the newly renamed Christopher Fuga Memorial Member-Guest.
   The event, played in mid-July, had five flights – in honor of Chris Fuga, each flight was named for a team he played for growing up – and it looked like Mark Fuga and Guy Giampietro were going to come up short in the Pottstown Spartans flight. The flight winners then go at it in a playoff to determine the overall winner.
   But no, Fuga and Giampietro got into a playoff for their flight and won it. Twice before in their partnership, they had reached the playoff, but never had they won the overall title. The playoff format is select drive, alternate shot.
   On the first hole of the playoff, Mark Fuga had a tough 14-foot downhill slider to keep the team alive. And it found the hole. Two teams were eliminated, three were left. All three teams missed the green on the par-3 second hole at Phoenixville, but Fuga and Giampietro had a shot, based on their combined handicaps.
   Mark Fuga's chip got 12 feet away and an easy two-putt – Mark Fuga knocked in the 15-inch tap-in – gave them the title with a net par.
   “It was surreal,” Mark Fuga told the GAP website. “We were packing clubs and taking shoes off. They came for us and said, ‘You’re in a playoff.’ Putts were short, shots went awry. It was an act of God – an act of Chris.”
   I covered a lot of sports in Phoenixville during a 15-year stint at The Mercury in Pottstown. It is a great little sports town. While I was at The Mercury, Andre Thornton was bashing home runs with the Cleveland Indians and Neal Olkewicz was playing in the Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins. A couple of Phoenixville guys, those two.
   I saw Rick Kraynak go from Phoenixville High to Pitt and all the way to the Eagles. I saw Mike Piazza go from Phoenixville High all the way to the baseball Hall of Fame.
   There were a ton of Phoenixville kids who didn’t have that kind of talent, but they were always tough, always competed. Some of them were Fugas and Giampietros.
   When I first met Chris Fuga that week at Llanerch – his uncle Stephen Giampietro told me the amazing story of his comeback from a bone marrow transplant and I later met Mark Fuga – I couldn’t help but think what a typical Phoenixville kid he was. He didn’t think it was such a big deal that less than a year after having a bone marrow transplant, he was shooting 69 at Llanerch and 73 at Rolling Green Golf Club to easily make the match-play bracket at the Philly Am.
   I was devastated to learn of his death a little more than a year ago. I talked to Mark Fuga and did a blog post in tribute to a young man who had made such an impression on me. Pretty sure that post (11-21-2015) has had more views than anything else I’ve written on this blog.
   What got Chris Fuga most excited that day at Llanerch was talking about the people at Temple’s Fox Chase Cancer Center who had given him a new lease on life.
   So, it was only appropriate that the Christopher Fuga Memorial Member-Guest Classic raised $5,000 for Temple’s Bone Marrow Transplant Program as well as $1,000 for Coker College and $1,000 for the Ginger English Memorial Fund.
   It happened in mid-July, but it makes for a pretty nice Christmas Eve story. And a pretty nice Phoenixville story. Like I said, it’s a great little sports town and Chris Fuga deserves his place right along with the big-leaguers it has produced.

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