‘Sonny’s an angel’: Meet the 14-year-old battling cancer that helped inspire Texas on its way to winning the NCAA Championship

·2 min read

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – After injuries and illness plagued the last few seasons, the Texas men’s golf team thought it had learned the varying levels of adversity.

And then they met Sonny Santrelli, a 14-year-old member at UT Golf Club in Austin who’s battling Stage 4 Lymphoma.

“I just thought this was gonna be a normal golf vacation, but I guess I bring a lot of luck to them,” said Santrelli with his signature smile after he watched his boys in burnt orange win the 2022 NCAA Div. I Men’s Golf Championship on Wednesday evening at Grayhawk Golf Club.

“Sonny’s an angel,” said head coach John Fields. “About eight weeks ago he just happened to sit down with (senior Pierceson Coody), and there’s a special little bond there now. Just absolutely incredible that that he would have come into our lives and then to be able to come here and share this with us.”

“Getting to know Sonny the last couple months has just been, as cliché as it is, eye opening,” Pierceson said. “He’s fighting so hard for things that a lot of us never imagined and I think he’s a big reason for why we saw such a big turnaround in our play and consistency. I feel like we were all fighting a little bit harder knowing that he cares so much about how hard we play and who we are. He’s meant the world to us.”

Struggling out the gates to start the spring with finishes of 8th and 10th, the Longhorns got back on track by finishing third at the Southern Highlands Collegiate and second at the N.I.T. before a pair of wins at the Augusta Haskins Award Invitational and Western Intercollegiate to close out the regular season. Before winning the fourth national championship in program history, Texas finished in third at the Big 12 Championship and fourth at the NCAA Norman Regional.

At a practice round before regionals, Pierceson and TaylorMade got some wedges and a putter stamped with “Sonny Strong” and Philippians 4:13. The team has been wearing “Sonny Strong” bracelets and credit their new friend for the motivation.

“He’s way tougher than we are but his toughness has definitely helped us out a lot,” said junior Travis Vick.

“He’s unbelievable,” added senior Parker Coody. “To be able to play golf in this environment is unbelievable and to have him out here to be a part of it, I hope it means as much to him as it does to us because it truly does mean a lot for us.”

“It gave me chills seeing him hold that trophy,” said senior Cole Hammer. “It’s just as much his as it is ours. He deserves it all and hopefully this spurs him on to continue to fight and be an inspiration for all of us.”