AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s Saturday afternoon and Mecklin Ragan has just finished a morning shift at the hospital lab, but there’s no trace of fatigue in his voice, his exhaustion concealed by the delight in what happened the last two days at Augusta National. No, Mecklin Ragan is not in Georgia to watch family friend Scottie Scheffler attempt to win the Masters, her general surgery residency keeping her in Columbus, Ohio. She is, however, watching every hole of the last 36.
And wishing James – Mecklin’s brother and Scottie’s pal – could watch it too.
“Oh man, he’s definitely looking down and smiling at that,” Mecklin says. “And probably wondering what took him so long.”
In 2006, James Ragan was a 13-year-old tennis prodigy, with the Corpus Christi native making his first international start at a tournament in Spain when he suffered knee pain. Within weeks, a series of medical visits revealed it was not a pull or injury, but osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. James immediately started chemotherapy and underwent surgery to save his leg. The surgery replaced 40% of his femur and 20% of his tibia with metal. Tennis was over for James.
Doctors, however, could tell that not playing sports was not an option for James. He was told he could still play golf or swim. “I remember him looking at me and saying, ‘Well, I definitely don’t swim,'” Mecklin said.
James took up golf. Despite having a fanny pack strapped to his waist that actively carried chemotherapy drugs through his body, James was able to become a beginner golfer in no time. As Mecklin points out, James never “put things halfway,” even before cancer entered his life, and that included his newfound passion. “He was never the most coordinated. He did a lot to improve hand-eye coordination, which has similarities to tennis. He worked really hard on it,” Mecklin says. “He spent most of his time at the local golf course.”
James also became fascinated with the history of the sport and in particular the Masters. He loved the club’s efforts to keep the course relevant and challenging and was fascinated by the way it looked. Mecklin was best friends with James, so his love became his, and soon Masters week became a holiday.
“We would do weekend brunches for it and not leave the couch. In middle school, we would turn on our computers and broadcast it to the back of the class,” Mecklin explains. “We just loved it.”
James started playing on the Legends Junior Tour in Texas, where he met Scottie Scheffler. Scottie was a little younger than James, but the two bonded, as did the players’ parents, who attended the lessons and watched their boys grow into boys.
“There was a respect between the two,” Mecklin says. “I think Scottie respected the way James was trying to live his life and have fun and get good at a sport he loved while trying to fight cancer and help others with cancer. James was touched by the way Scottie conducted his business. He could tell he was destined to be someone great. They influenced each other.
It turned out the chemo was working, and on his 14th birthday, James asked, in lieu of gifts, for donations to the local hospital or to osteosarcoma research at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. James’ wish generated over $40,000.
But months later, the cancer had metastasized to his lungs. When osteosarcoma reaches this part of the body, the cancer is considered terminal.
“At 14, he knew he was going to die,” Mecklin says. “But he never felt depressed. I think it comes from my mother, who also told him: “There is always someone in the hospital who is worse than you. You start to see very quickly how easy it is for young people to waste time and talent and James wanted to make sure he made the most of the time he had left.”
James, along with Mecklin (who is 18 months older), co-founded the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation in 2010 to raise awareness and research for the more than 175,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year. It might be too late for James, but he wanted to make sure the same fate didn’t befall others.
He also went on to be a kid, play golf, and develop his relationship with Scheffler. The two became so close that James invited Scottie to guest-member Corpus Christi Country Club, where 16-year-old James and 14-year-old Scottie defeated a group of adults for the title.
“I’ve never seen them so happy,” Mecklin says. “I don’t know if they were happier to win or if so many old guys were mad at a bunch of teenagers beating them up.” To ring in their victory, James and Scottie poured Dr Pepper into a glass cup clearly designed to consume drinks that are slightly more adult than soda.
Scheffler ultimately chose the University of Texas to pursue his amateur career; James went to Rice University in his hometown, his treatments keeping him close to Corpus Christi. He even managed to join the Rice golf team. And through his education, golf and treatment, James has continued to spread the word about his mission, hosting an annual golf race that doubles as a gown to raise money to fight the disease, an event that Scottie never missed.
As of December 2013, the foundation has spent over $1.5 million in donations, a benchmark James has set as his goal. Soon after, he was told the end was near. James Ragan died on February 17, 2014.
“It’s something I think about every day,” Mecklin says. “Impartial. He’s my best friend. I like to think that, as touched as James was by the support, people loved being around him because he was a constant inspiration. What he did was is to give people perspective.”
James’ death did not end his relationship with Scottie, who took James’ place as honorary starter at the toga party scramble. He did so despite the tournament being held in May, right in the middle of the NCAA Tournament. “Scottie knew it was important,” Mecklin says. “He would come on Friday and be back in Austin the next day, but he wanted to do what he could to keep James’ memory alive.”
Shortly after turning pro in 2019, Scheffler won the RSM Birdies Fore Love, a touring contest for birdies made at fall events that awards the winner $300,000 to charity of their choice. He has earmarked $50,000 for the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation. His giving has not stopped and he has partnered with Mecklin to create a program that brings kids battling cancer to golf.
“There are certain limitations that come with the disease,” Mecklin says. “A lot of times you can’t do contact sports or running. But they can play golf. These children need more than just surgeries and health care. They need something fun to do, to distract them and give them hope.
Scheffler’s donations cover everything from bags and equipment to installing practice greens at hospitals. He will often make these donations himself, with his wife Meredith, at various tour stops.
Now 30, Mecklin – who was inspired by James to dedicate her life to pediatric care – is amazed that Scheffler has stayed true to who he is despite the new heights he has reached. “I told his mother earlier this week that it’s so rare, no matter what you do in life, doctor, lawyer, salesman or writer, it’s rare to find someone who succeeds at a level high and stay humble,” says Mecklin. “So that it doesn’t go to their heads. He’s the best golfer around, but his mission is always to help others.
Scheffler listed Augusta National as the world’s No. 1, but he’s 27 holes away from the eternal fame that comes with a green jacket, possessing a five-stroke lead on the back nine on Saturday. Mecklin is proud of what Scottie does and who he’s become, who he’s always been.
And now Scheffler’s rise coincides with Masters week, the week that Mecklin and James crowned. It’s easy to think this could be a bittersweet week for Mecklin, seeing Scottie do what he does and James isn’t around to witness it. But Mecklin is religious and says James doesn’t miss a beat.
“Trust me, he’s watching,” Mecklin says. And, come Sunday night, hopefully tip a Dr. Pepper in Scheffler’s direction.
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