SCOTTSDALE – If you’ve been to any stop on the PGA Tour in the last 15 years, then there is a good chance you’ve seen D.J. Gregory walking the course, inside the ropes. But not as one of the players battling for first place.
Gregory was born with cerebral palsy and doctors told his parents he would likely spend his life in a wheelchair. That diagnosis didn’t stop him from becoming a kind of walking good-luck charm for many of the best golfers in the world.
On Tuesday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Gregory was honored with the PGA Tour Courage Award in a surprise ceremony, becoming the first ever non-PGA Tour member to receive the award. The PGA Tour Courage Award is presented to a person who, through courage and perseverance, has overcome extraordinary adversity.
“D.J. has endeared himself to countless fans, players, staff and tournaments for over a decade on the PGA Tour and is a tremendous example of perseverance and courage,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said.
A golf fan since the age of 12, Gregory has faced several surgeries in which both of his legs essentially were broken in an effort to turn his feet outward. Against the odds, he persevered and learned how to walk with a cane. In 2008, with the help of sportscaster Jim Nantz, Gregory began a journey he never envisioned he’d still be on today.
His goal was to travel the country and walk the course with a different player at each event. Since 2008, Gregory has walked over 14,000 miles and 42,000 holes at PGA Tour events, more holes than any PGA Tour golfer ever.
“D.J. is sending a message to people about determination and faith and vision and courage,” Nantz told reporters after Gregory’s first season walking on the tour. “I really believe we’re all eyewitnesses to something that will be a movie someday.”
Beyond walking an average of 45-48 events each year since he started, Gregory also started the Walking For Kids Foundation in 2009. To date, he has helped raise over $1 million, which has been donated to over 25 children’s charities, including First Tee chapters around the country.
The Courage Award includes a $25,000 donation to the charity of Gregory’s choice, and that donation was matched individually by Waste Management, the Thunderbirds and Jon Rahm, the world No. 1 men’s player and Gregory’s walking partner this year.
“It’s amazing,” Gregory said after receiving the award. “I’m so fortunate that everybody believes in my mission and what I’m trying to do, and it’s just I can’t even put it into words. I never thought that what I did in 2008, I would still be doing now…I love what I do and being able to help others achieve their goals and dreams, yeah it’s pretty awesome.”
Some on tour have called Gregory a good-luck charm. Others call him the black cat. He has walked with the winning player eight times in his career, including most recently in 2021 with Rahm at the U.S. Open.
Rahm is one of many golfers on the tour that Gregory considers “some of my closest friends,” he said. “And that’s what I take away most. Yes, giving away money and raising the money is awesome, but it’s the friendships for me. It’s the relationships.”
A smiling Gregory said that although he is friends with many golfers on tour, he hopes they finish second this weekend behind Rahm.
“Our players have embraced D.J. over the years and continue to be motivated by his dedication to the Walking For Kids Foundation,” Monahan said. “We couldn’t be prouder of the impact he has made and the many lives he has touched in a positive way.”
Despite all that he has achieved and all the people that he has inspired, Gregory said he has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“When I decide to retire, then I will be able to go back and look at it and realize what I’m doing and realize what I accomplished,” Gregory said. “But as I’m going through it right now, I’m just more looking forward to this week…I want to put all my energy into this week and my energy into Jon Rahm.”