This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of PGA Magazine.
Growing up in Southbury, Connecticut, about an hour north of New York City, Robb Heering Jr. knew something wasn’t right when he was younger. He didn’t ever feel “good” on a daily basis. But like most young kids, he was afraid to talk about it.
At age 12, Heering was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that was rare for someone his age. By high school, things had only gotten worse – Heering spent more time in the hospital than at school. Then, during his senior year, a routine medical procedure blew a hole through Heering’s colon and intestines. He was kept alive through a surgical procedure called a colostomy.
Post-surgery, life still was bleak for Heering. He spent most days on the couch still not feeling well, alone and wondering how he could turn his for- tunes around. One day, Heering’s dad asked him what he was up to and if he maybe wanted to go play golf. Heering said yes, but was hesitant – he’d only had taken lessons on a driving range, and had never been on a course.
Golf has an amazing way of affecting people in so many positive forms, and that was the case on the course that day for Heering. Hesitant? Not in the slightest. Heering was hooked from the first swing, and golf provided not only a potential future career, but an escape from the hardships he faced in the past.
“I was really struggling a lot with the physical and mental aspects of life,” says Heering, now 28 and a PGA teaching professional and sales represen- tative for ShipSticks in Wellington, Florida. “But, I had golf. I had motivation. I told myself, ‘You can do this.’ It really took my mind off the disease.”
Eventually moving south to Dallas, Heering found himself at the Jim McLean Golf School in nearby Fort Worth, hitting balls next to then-budding PGA Tour star Jason Day while working feverishly to improve his own game.
Yet, it was the renowned instructors at the golf school that really caught Heering’s eye, steering him towards a career as a PGA teaching professional.
“I really got inspired by the world-class teachers at the school,” recalls Heering. “They were helping people reach their dreams and that was something I wanted to do, too, so becoming a PGA Professional was my next goal.”
Heering entered the PGA Professional Golf Management Program in 2009, returning to Connecticut and passing his PAT shortly after. In 2012, he moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, and started working at The Club at Ibis, where he became a PGA member in October 2013.
The game was slowly becoming Heering’s escape. No longer did he feel alone or depressed, but instead welcomed and cherished for his hard work and motivating attitude.
“Really the only thing going through my mind every day at that point was playing golf,” adds Heering. “It’s a sport where the more you play it, the more people you get to know. The PGA Professionals I know today became like a second family to me and they helped me through my struggle. Golf has become my life, and I don’t really know where I’d be without it.”
And with that fresh and enthusiastic outlook, Heering hopes that golf can have the same effect on the patients of the Children’s Hospital at Saint Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. Heering volunteers with other South Florida PGA Section Professionals through the “Smiling for Life” program, teaching the kids how to golf and hoping he can make even a small difference in their lives.
“I just want them to enjoy life – and on Wednesdays at 1:30, they get to do that through golf,” says Heering. “It works wonders like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve had parents tell me their kids want to take lessons when they get out of the hospital, and that makes it really special. Golf gave me a new viewpoint on life, and I hope that this program can do the same for these awesome kids.”
For Heering, the future surely looks brighter than he ever could’ve imagined. Golf has done more than just provide an escape: It’s provided him a career where he can use the game to change the lives of others – something his dad’s simple question did for him years ago.