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Jamie Nieto, of Pheasant Run Resort, Honored with Distinguished Service Award

By Tim Cronin

Jamie Nieto was always into golf.

He had played for East Leyden’s team starting as a freshman, caddied at Oak Park Country Club, and was hoping to make the golf team at Monmouth College in western Illinois.

On his 20th birthday, the world of this college sophomore changed. An explosion in his family’s backyard fire pit, caused when he held a can of paint thinner too close, burned him across half his body.

He was in a coma for three weeks.

He woke up on Thanksgiving Day.

He is a survivor – and more.

Golf drove him to not just survive, but live.

“His passion for playing golf was a driving force in his recovery journey, even though his hands sustained severe burns resulting in partial amputation of his right thumb, along with other fingertip amputations,” wrote Amy Acton, executive director of the Phoenix Society for burn survivors. “While others may have giving up on the dream of playing golf with these types of injuries, Jamie never doubted that he would play golf again.”

Play he does, but he does more than play. The head professional at the Pheasant Run Resort, 32-year-old Nieto runs that operation with aplomb, but more than that, he is a constant cheerleader for the game and for life.

For that, he’s been voted the Section’s 2016 Distinguished Service Award.

“I have been fortunate in my life to have great people do a lot of great things for me,” Nieto wrote in his nomination submission. “This taught me the important lesson of why I should take my good fortunes and help those that I can. Throughout my youth and even into my adult years I have great examples of people teaching me to do the right thing and lead a good life. I’ve learned that nothing comes easy and that in order to be successful and achieve your goals you have to be willing to put in the time.

Pheasant Run’s clientele changes daily, but Nieto still saw a way to introduce some continuity by starting a “Hooked on Golf” program.

“This program is designed to give the person with little to no golf exposure an introduction to the game,” Nieto said. “Not just hitting a golf ball, but everything associated with golf. It helps take away some of the fear of getting started with the game.”

The biggest thing he does is talk about what happened to him and how golf helped make him whole again, partially amputated right thumb and all.

“Through my public speaking engagements I always speak about how golf was my driving force, how it motivated me to get through difficult times, and how making it my career has given me the chance to give back to not only the golfing community but the community as a whole,” Nieto explained.

“I have been able to help burn survivors and their families through a difficult time and let them know that they are not alone. After my injury I became heavily involved in Loyola Medical Center’s burn support group.

“Through this organization and with the help of my friend and mentor (Tony Gonzalez), we started the Burn Awareness Golf Outing and Charity. In 10 years we have raised over $100,000 for burns survivors and the burn unit at Loyola. This work has allowed me to become involved with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and become a counselor in their Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery or SOAR. This endeavor has really allowed me to give back to the burn community that has given me so much.”

Given all that, working in the golf business is a comparative snap.

“While I may work in the golf industry and deal primarily with golfers, I try to use all of my knowledge to improve the lives of the people I come in contact with” Nieto said. “I have continually volunteered for different programs to help reach out to those people interested in the game of golf. I’ve used my expertise as a PGA professional enhance the quality of life of those persons that enjoy the game of golf, but might not be able to play or otherwise enjoy the game by offering instruction and discussing different facets of the game with them in how it relates to daily life.

“I want to use golf as way to help improve their lives and overall enjoyment of life.”

Jamie Nieto lives that way every day.

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