U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
After Near-Death Experience, Fessler Returns to Junior Am
July 15, 2019 | Toledo, Ohio
By Michael Trostel, USGA
A half-dozen doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis were frantically trying to keep 16-year-old Trey Fessler alive. They had just iced down his body in an attempt to prevent brain damage and control his temperature, which had spiked to 105 degrees. He had pneumonia and was hooked up to a respirator after complications from what was supposed to have been a simple procedure went drastically wrong.
His parents, Steve Fessler and Leslie Randich, went to the hospital chapel and prayed, promising anything to make this stop and bring their son back to normal.
“Our whole world was crashing down,” said Steve.
Finally, around 7 a.m., things got better. Trey’s temperature began to come down and later that morning his lungs began working on their own. He had spent more than 14 hours on life support and lost 30 pounds in two days, but his condition was improving. And he was already thinking about getting back on the golf course.
Fessler was introduced to the game earlier than most. There is a photo of him with a golf club taken less than a week after he was born.
His father has been a club professional since 1991, working at three courses in the Minneapolis area over the past three decades. Steve remembers bringing Trey to the practice range in a stroller as an infant.
“The sound of me hitting the ball would scare him at first,” recalled Steve, who has been on the board of the Minnesota PGA since 2000. “Then he started smiling and laughing. He loved it right away.”
Even in his early years, Trey would do anything to be around the golf course. While most 5-year-olds were playing in a sandbox, he was intently watching and listening as his father gave lessons.
Trey began to develop under Steve’s tutelage, earning the nickname “Fess Junior” for all the time spent with his dad. He employed a cross-handed grip until the 5th grade, but slowly transitioned to a conventional grip in an effort to improve his ball-striking.
Trey qualified for the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur at age 15 and was a standout player at St. Michael-Albertville High School, earning all-conference and all-state honors in each of his four years.
Golf wasn’t the only sport Trey learned from his father. Steve played basketball at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., and passed his love of the game on to Trey, who played in youth travel leagues and earned a roster spot on the varsity team his sophomore year. Then something happened that would change his life.
Starting in eighth grade, Trey experienced what felt like an elevated heartbeat a few times a year. The episodes occurred when he was playing sports, and the symptoms would typically go away after a period of rest. His parents brought him to a pediatrician for tests, but his doctor was not able to diagnose a cause.
The next year, the incidents happened more frequently, and doctors gave Trey a monitor to attach to his chest.
One night in February 2017, Trey was hustling back on defense in his high school basketball game. But something wasn’t right.
“My coach was yelling at me to run, but I was going in slow motion,” said Trey. “I came over to the sidelines and it looked like my jersey was blowing in the wind.”
In fact, his heart was racing at a dangerously high 315 beats per minute, more than double what the maximum should be during rigorous exercise.
Trey was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a genetic condition in which abnormal pathways or electrical circuits in the heart cause a rapid heartbeat. It affects about 0.2% of the population, but typically does not lead to serious health problems if treated or managed properly.
Trey went in to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis for what was supposed to be a simple surgery to correct his SVT. But Trey vomited as doctors were removing the tubes following the successful surgery. He aspirated the fluid and it shut down his lungs, creating a string of events that led to a trying night for Trey’s parents and the medical professionals.
When Trey woke the next morning, he needed help getting out of bed, had to shower sitting in a chair and couldn’t walk on his own for the next 10 days. But he was determined to get back on the golf course as soon as possible.
“All I wanted to do was play golf,” said Trey. “Playing golf puts me in my Zen place, my happy place, where I have no worries. I was determined to do anything it took to return to playing at a high level.”
The road back featured slow but steady improvement. At first, he walked four holes and felt completely exhausted. His ball speed was down too, dropping nearly 20%, from 180 mph before the surgery to 148 mph after. To improve his stamina and regain his power, Trey spent several days a week in the weight room, adding back the muscle mass that was lost from his 6-foot-2, 270-pound frame. He was back on the course in early April and played in his first high school tournament later that month, shooting a 77.
“That was about six strokes higher than my average from the previous year, but I was ecstatic,” said Trey. “I wasn’t that far off. And just to be playing golf again, I felt blessed.”
Trey’s patience and persistence paid off. He finished runner-up at the 2017 Midwest Junior Championship in June, calling that result his “turning point.” The following May, he tied the state high school 18-hole record with a 9-under-par 63 at Riverwood National G.C. in Otsego. That round also broke the course record at Riverwood – previously owned by his father, who served as the head professional there for seven years.
Steve was a big part of Trey’s comeback, helping him to rebuild his swing in between giving 15 to 25 lessons per week at his day job.
“My dad made time for me whenever I needed it,” said Trey. “He is such a good coach, the best in the country. Whether it’s a beginner or really serious player, he gets to know you on a personal level and figures out exactly what clicks.”
This June, as Trey was getting ready to play his U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier, he called his father right before his starting time.
“I looked at my watch and asked him, ‘Shouldn’t you be on the tee?’” said Steve. “He said ‘Dad, I’m really nervous.’ I told him, ‘Trey, you’re nervous because you really want it. You’ve worked hard for this, so just go out there, do your thing and have fun.’”
Trey did just that. He made a double bogey on the second hole, but rebounded with four birdies coming in to shoot a 2-under-par 70 and grab one of three available spots at The Links at Northfork in Ramsey, Minn., to advance to his second Junior Amateur.
“When I made it at The Honors Course [in 2016], I wasn’t prepared to play at that level yet,” said Trey, who shot rounds of 79-88 to miss the match-play cut by 16 strokes. “It was so eye-opening to play on the biggest stage. It made me realize how hard I needed to work to get to where I wanted to be.”
While Leslie is recuperating from knee surgery and will be following from home, Steve is here for support this week, having flown to Toledo after running a member-member tournament on Sunday at Medina G. & C.C., where he has been the head professional since 2017.
“It gives me chills thinking about Trey being here after what he went through,” said Steve. “I’m so proud of him.”
Trey is happy to be alive and thankful for the opportunities ahead. But for now, he is focusing on having a great week at Inverness.
“I am beyond blessed to play in this [championship] again,” said Trey, who turns 19 in September and will enroll at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College this fall. “With what happened, it really put everything into perspective. I’m just ready to have fun out there.”
Mike Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.