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Kaufman Goes the Distance For Cancer

In 2006, Smylie Kaufman’s neighborhood in Birmingham, Ala., experienced devastating changes. Within a few years, four children under the age of seven were diagnosed with some form of cancer. Two lost the battle. Two still fight.

When Smylie and his younger brother, Luckie, saw the demoralizing effects, they created the Kids vs. Cancer campaign, and for his leadership and volunteer efforts, Smylie has earned the 2008 Presidents’ Youth Leadership Award from the United States Golf Association (USGA) - American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Youth Leadership Club.

The award recognizes one boy and one girl junior golfer who demonstrated leadership, character and community service through their involvement with the club, a joint initiative founded in 2005 to further develop junior golfers through volunteerism.

Smylie will receive the award during the Rolex Dinner of Champions Thursday, July 3, 2008, during the Rolex Tournament of Champions at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind. Additionally, Smylie will receive four tickets to a future U.S. Open of his choice, access to the USGA hospitality tent during the U.S. Open, and an automatic entry into the 2008 Rolex Tournament of Champions – one of the most prestigious junior golf events in the country.

The Kids vs. Cancer campaign started as a simple idea. Seeing neighborhood children battling cancer, Smylie and Luckie sought to raise money for the local children’s hospital in memory of all cancer patients.

“I didn’t think it was fair that they would get cancer and not really get to have a good childhood going through high school,” Smylie said.

With cancer patients to inspire them, the Kaufmans staged a 100-hole golf marathon. Smylie sent letters seeking hole-by-hole pledges and donations, with all proceeds to benefit the American Cancer Society. In its first year, the Kids vs. Cancer 100-hole marathon raised more than $18,000.

“We came up with the idea because my brother and I are both golfers and that’s something we enjoy doing,” Smylie said. “When you play 100 holes, it’s a lasting impact and you know you’ve done something good.”

Smylie and Luckie were the only two participants in the inaugural marathon, but Smylie knew the mission was too big and too important to flourish without support. He wrote letters to golf courses, friends, family, junior golfers from around the state and anyone he thought could make a difference.

Smylie asked 23 companies for donations to purchase laptop computers for cancer inpatients at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama. Though the golf community lent support, rejection letters from the companies began to pile up.

“We just have to keep trying and sending out letters,” Smylie said. “Sometimes it didn’t work out for us, but sometimes it did.”

After dozens of rejection letters, the Alabama Power Foundation wrote a check for $1,500, enough to buy two laptops. The laptops helped many of the 300 cancer patients treated at the UAB Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Children’s Hospital keep up to speed with schoolwork, news and their lives as teenagers.

The 2007 edition of the 100-hole marathon attracted 20 participants, including an entire high school golf team in Montgomery, Ala., more than 90 miles from Smylie’s hometown. As of March 2008, Kids vs. Cancer and its fundraisers have raised more than $51,000 for cancer research.

Smylie is off to a great start in gaining national exposure for his cause. Kids vs. Cancer has partnered with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail of Alabama and is the official charity of two LPGA events, the Bell Micro LPGA Classic and the Navistar LPGA Classic. In addition, Kids vs. Cancer is part of the Birdies for Charity initiative at the Champions Tour’s Regions Charity Classic in Hoover, Ala.

Smylie’s main focus, however, remains on gaining statewide support of junior golf tours and junior golfers.

“When I saw people at golf tournaments that said they wanted to help out, that’s when I knew it was something good,” Smylie said. “We’re trying to get as many junior golfers involved that want to help out with this cause. We still haven’t hit all of Alabama.”

Now in its third year, the impact of Kids vs. Cancer isn’t necessarily reflected in pure dollars and cents. During last year’s 100-hole marathon, participants played for a designated cancer patient. Many patients came to the course to visit their player during the marathon, really giving a face to the cause.

Because of Smylie Kaufman, his brother Luckie, and Kids vs. Cancer, the lives of these young cancer patients are made a bit better every day.

Read Kelsey Conway's story here.