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Wichita Open: Golfers continue Via Christi visits

Wichita Open golfer Jeff Gove joked with a pediatric patient recently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

"Watch the U.S. Open this week," Gove said. "It's a good nap."

Gove, 40, and fellow golfers Travis Bertoni, Russell Knox and Dawie van der Walt spent an hour away from pre-tournament practice Tuesday afternoon, bringing smiles and ballcaps to children at the ChildLife Center at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis.

The yearly visit was part of fundraising and goodwill activities held by the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open, which starts Thursday at Crestview Country Club. Money raised by the tournament benefits local charities, including Children's Miracle Network, a Via Christi Foundation program helping sick and injured kids in Kansas.

This year, the Wichita Open is expected to raise more than $200,000, said tournament director Roy Turner. About $60,000 will benefit Children's Miracle Network, he said.

For Bertoni, 27, and Knox, 25, Tuesday's mission was simple: make kids feel better.

"We can go home and be healthy and be with our family, and they don't have that opportunity," said Bertoni, who's from Paso Robles, Calif.

"If I can at all make them smile and make them feel good for two seconds today, then my goal is achieved," said Knox, who's from Scotland.

Seven-year-old Braden Crego was playing Battleship with his parents and brother Tanner, 4, when the golfers knelt down to give him an oversized black hat.

Michael and Tracy Crego brought their son to the ChildLife Center — which treats children with a variety of medical conditions and diseases — on Sunday for appendicitis.

"It's pretty nice of them (golfers) to take time out of their day," Tracy Crego said.

Even 21-month-old Damian Ortiz-Ramirez received a hat.

Damian grinned from his mother's arms, despite an IV trailing from his foot and recent surgery to correct diverticulitis — inflammation of the intestinal wall.

"It was nice having someone new come in," said the boy's mother, Ofelia Ortiz.

Tom Holzman, who co-chairs the media committee for the Wichita Open, has coordinated the golfers' Via Christi visit for more than a decade. He said when players like South Africa native van der Walt, 28, take interest in a patient's game of Bingo, they relax before tee time.

"They kind of become little kids again for a while," Holzman said. "It takes a little off of their minds, and they can have fun."

The annual visits provide a distraction for the kids, too, said ChildLife specialist Catherine Coakley.

"It makes their life a little more normal, like if they were at home instead of in the hospital," Coakley said.

The Wichita Open starts Thursday and runs through Sunday. More than 150 golfers will vie for the tournament's top prize of $108,000. Tee time is 7 a.m. Thursday at Crestview Country Club in Wichita.

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