AUGUSTA, GEORGIA | Leonie Harm’s presence at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is nothing less than a miracle.
In 2013, Harm was in a German hospital with doctors telling her family she had less than a 1 percent chance of living.
Instead, she recovered and has made the most of her second chance at life, becoming one of the world’s leading female amateurs.
Even though she missed the 36-hole cut in this week’s inaugural championship with rounds of 78-76 at Champions Retreat Golf Club in nearby Evans, Ga., the reigning British Women’s Amateur champion will play a practice round at Augusta National today – a courtesy extended to all 72 competitors before Saturday’s final round featuring the low 30 players – and that’s more than she ever imagined after her accident.
Following her two rounds at Champions Retreat, the 21-year-old said, “It’s an amazing golf course, but the golf course didn’t like me so much, and that’s OK. Maybe we will redefine our relationship next year; who knows. It was really tough out there to play good golf because I hit a lot of really bad shots and they got harshly punished with a lot of high numbers.
“But it doesn’t matter, because I’m excited to play a fun round of golf at Augusta (National). So at least I don’t have to be super serious out there.”
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The quiet, brisk mornings in Harm’s hometown of Gerlingen, Germany, were the only times she could get a run in. After 6 a.m. it was time to get ready for school, and afterward it was practice, homework, rinse and repeat.
At 5 a.m. on May 3, 2013, Harm left for a run. She didn’t tell her parents she was leaving that morning.
About 20,000 people populate Gerlingen, and there are only six stoplights in town. The stoplights do not turn on until 6 a.m.
Harm was running on the main street heading back home, and as she crossed the street under a blinking-yellow light, a drunk driver traveling almost 45 mph struck her.
According to the police report – Harm can’t remember most of the accident – she flipped over the car, landing on the pavement.
A woman who had graduated high school with Harm’s older brother and was walking to the bus on her way into work that morning witnessed the accident. The woman had served in the German army for a few years and knew CPR.
When the woman got to Harm – according to the police report – she was bleeding out of her ears and unconscious. The paramedics arrived, and nearly pronounced her dead at the scene. Instead, they took her to the hospital.
Meanwhile, Harm’s parents – Hans-Dieter and Desiree – started to worry. It was 6:30 in the morning and they had no idea where their 15-year-old daughter was until they received a call from the police. They rushed to the hospital after doctors told them that they would do what they could, but there was little hope for Leonie to survive.
Because of swelling in her brain, Harm was put into an induced coma. She suffered broken ribs, a broken hip and ankle, and had a collapsed lung.
In a dramatic turn of events, five days later she woke up from the coma – groggy, but awake.
The only surgery she underwent was on her ankle, because that was the only fracture that wasn’t clean. “The human body is pretty impressive like that,” Harm said.
Two weeks later, she was released from the hospital. She still had another five weeks in a boot, but she was on her way to recovery.
“The doctors said they had never seen anything like it,” Harm said.
“For the next couple of weeks, chillin’ on the couch was so hard. I was on crutches, and I went and watched my friends play because I couldn’t just sit there anymore. That was the hardest thing.”
She was cleared to practice once the boot came off.
Last season, Harm became the first player in Houston women’s golf history with multiple appearances at the NCAA Championships.
Her first tournament back was the British Girls’ Championship that July. Harm played well in the first round, but got sick with an inner ear infection and withdrew.
Harm’s ears didn’t fully heal after the accident and with the travel and rain during the first round, her health was affected. She arrived back in Germany and went immediately to the hospital for surgery. A bone in her ear channel was broken and hadn’t healed on its own after the accident.
“Out of that whole accident, that was the most pain I was ever in. It was terrible,” Harm recalled.
She can’t fully hear in her right ear, but “that’s OK in the greater perspective of things,” she said.
Harm’s inner-ear problems affected her balance and her golf swing.
“It was a bit more challenging on the brain at first, and it was something I had to get used to as my swing was not as natural, but now I’ve figured it out,” she said.
At the beginning of 2014, University of Houston women’s head coach Gerrod Chadwell heard about Harm through a mutual friend overseas.
“To be honest, if the accident didn’t happen, there’s no way I hear about her,” Chadwell said.
Since joining the Cougars in 2015, she has won three college tournaments, including two this spring. Last season, she became the first player in program history with multiple appearances at the NCAA Championships.
In the middle of her sophomore year, around Christmas, the Harm family endured a tragedy. Leonie’s mom, her best friend, died after battling blood cancer.
“I honestly didn’t know if she was gonna come back (to school),” Chadwell said. “But for her to process it all – overcoming the accident, overcoming losing her best friend all while being one of the best amateur golfers in the world – she’s a bar-setter, and it’s way up there.”
After a solid junior season, she broke through with the biggest win of her career at the British Ladies’ Amateur (since renamed the Women’s Amateur by the R&A), defeating American Stephanie Lau, 3 and 2, in the final at England’s Hillside Golf Club and becoming the first German to win the championship in its 155-year history.
She played in last year’s Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where she missed the cut, and also earned an exemption into this year’s U.S. Women’s Open.
But it’s not the victories that most please Harm.
“Really, the biggest accomplishment I had last year was not necessarily winning anything – it’s that I started to mature a lot on the golf course,” she said.
“It’s real easy to be in a good mood when you’re playing well and winning. The major key is to still enjoy the sport, because it’s really just a game, even when it’s not going great. … And that’s just been the biggest accomplishment sports-related, in my opinion.
“Obviously, the wins are nice and playing the (Women’s) British Open was a really cool experience, but I’m just really trying to have golf make me a better person.”
Germany’s Leonie Harm of Germany during Thursday’s second round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Photo: Courtesy Augusta National
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