When Clay Yates took the ceremonial first shot at the Memorial Health Championship on Thursday morning (July 14), the former college golfer was only one month away from a significant anniversary – one that gave him a second chance at life.
Yates, 34, is a heart transplant recipient. He received his new heart almost three years ago on Aug. 30, 2019, during a 10-hour procedure at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
The local real estate agent had always been healthy and active, but he noticed some shortness of breath while he was on vacation in Colorado with his family in 2019; he attributed it to the elevation. When the shortness of breath persisted when he returned home to central Illinois, he went to a Memorial Care urgent care facility, where a nurse practitioner ordered a CT scan to be completed at Springfield Memorial Hospital.
Yates was on his way to show a house when the hospital called. The scan showed Yates had an enlarged heart, and his lungs were taking in fluid. The caller insisted that Yates go to the emergency room right away.
Yates was admitted with a diagnosis of heart failure. He was eventually transferred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where doctors unsuccessfully tried a series of medication to improve his heart function.
He was placed on the transplant list on Aug. 26, 2019 – a Monday. He was near the top of the list based on the severity of his condition. By Friday, he underwent the procedure to receive his new heart.
“The first few moments after I woke up were the best of my life,” Yates said. “Nothing was more special than being greeted by my wife, kids and family.”
Yates ceremonial first shot kicked off the four-day Memorial Health Championship presented by LRS, part of the Korn Ferry Tour, which features 156 golfers from around the globe playing 72 holes for a $750,000 purse.
“We are honored to have Clay take the ceremonial first shot at this year’s Memorial Health Championship and to have played a part in his successful recovery to better health,” said Ed Curtis, president and CEO of Memorial Health. “Proceeds from the tournament will benefit our five hospital foundations, which will use the funds for education and research to help patients like Clay.”
One of the Korn Ferry Tour professionals competing this week, Erik Compton, also is a heart transplant recipient. Compton attended the opening ceremony, and Yates later walked part of the course with Compton.
Tickets are available for free access to all four rounds of competitive play from July 14 to 17. To register, visit MemorialHealthChampionship.com. Daily walk-up attendance is also free. Free parking is available at Landmark Ford, 2401 Prairie Crossing Road, Springfield, with complementary shuttle service to the event.
Before the four-day tournament began, the Memorial Health Championship featured a Ladies Pro-Am, presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, on July 11, and the LRS Pro-Am on July 13. Tournament practice rounds were held July 11 and 12.