Golf community rallies to help teenage Ukrainian golfer escape to US
But his arrival in the US — while it assured his safety — came at a price.
His mother would soon return to Ukraine to be with his dad, who had to remain due to martial law, and his grandparents. Although Golod thinks his grandparents and mother will travel to the US, he’s unsure when he’ll next see his father, Oleg.
Although he appreciates his safety, having the majority of his family back in Ukraine in the midst of Russia’s invasion of the country has weighed heavily on him.
“It’s very devastating, but thankfully, they all have Wi-Fi and a source of internet, food, water, and I can still talk to them and make sure they’re safe,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto. “And I know that once everything is over, I’ll definitely bring them here to be with me.”
Golod added: “My father will only be able to leave once the martial law ends. And otherwise, he’ll have to stay in there and we’ll hope for the best.”
Golod told CNN that he spent a week and a half in the Russian “bombardment” of Ukraine’s capital because the “explosions were not that close to our house.”
“But… the moment we knew that the bombardment was in our town, we knew we had to leave and get me out and then my parents would come back to get their parents out,” he explained.
And it was Golod’s ties to golf that offered him a way into the US.
The 15-year-old is one of the best young golfers in Ukraine and has participated in competitions around the world.
Just last year, Golod became the first Ukrainian to compete in the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) US Junior Amateur, which took place at the Country Club of North Carolina last summer.
After a grueling 5,000-mile journey, which began in a car and ended when he landed in Orlando, taking approximately 54 hours, it was a visa he had obtained from playing in a tournament in the US which helped him re-enter the country.
And safely in the US, Golod condemned what is happening back in his homeland.
“Something that’s happening in Ukraine should not be happening in the middle of Europe in the 21st century,” he said. “Kids are losing their homes, they’re dying, they’re losing their lives.
“And it’s devastating, and people should know the truth because there’s a lot of fake news going around. But in reality, what’s happening is the whole country’s being destroyed. It’s not demilitarization or denationalization, it’s actually being destroyed by (Vladimir) Putin, and it has to be stopped.”
When he was still in Kyiv, Golod’s plight began to be circulated widely on the internet after an interview with Golf Digest highlighted his and his family’s dire situation.
And the interview led to members of the golfing community galvanizing to try and help his situation.
Nugent told CNN Sport that reading about Golod’s story “played to my soul a little bit” which is why he and Leadbetter offered their help.
“And so I called (Leadbetter) and we talked about it and he said: ‘Well, we’ve got to do something about this.’ And I said: ‘What do you have in mind?’ He said: ‘We’ll get him out of Ukraine. We’ll get him into my academy in Orlando, Florida, and I’ll get him in school and he’ll begin a new life,'” Nugent explained, saying at first he thought the plan was “a bit farfetched.”
And so, they set about doing what they could to help Golod and his family with their journey.
Nugent explains that he spent time on the phone getting financial commitments from the USGA and the Country Club of North Carolina to aid his journey from Ukraine.
Seeing this outpouring of support “means the world” to Golod, says Nugent.
“I don’t know that it’s fair to say that we’ve saved a life, but certainly the arc of his life has been changed forever more,” Nugent explained to CNN Sport.
“For me, it’s just reaffirmation of something that I think is absolute. And that is in times of need, this game, this golfing community, as you just referred to, always steps up; it always has, and it always will. And this is just in my mind reaffirmation of that very absolute fact.”
Having arrived in the US, Golod spent his first few days acclimatizing, organizing a phone, bank account and other necessities for life in a foreign country.
His mother, Vita, helped with getting her son settled in before traveling back to be with her husband a few days later.
Leadbetter and his golf academy have provided accommodation for Golod, with the young golfer staying with his assistant as he continues to adapt to life in the US.
Although he is unsure about his long-term future in the US, Golod says he will go to college in the country after finishing the final years of high school there.
And Nugent believes that Golod’s skill with a golf club will help him and his future in the US.
“Leadbetter has seen him swing and says this kid has real potential,” he explained. “And so I think the goal is going to be to try and use his ability to hopefully go to college in America and play golf. I don’t know if that means a big-time college school or if you’re talking something smaller or more modest.
“But he does appear to have enough skill to earn some form of financial aid, financial scholarship for an American college. And so, I think that’s going to be the goal.”
Golod’s life has been turned upside down with his move across the world.
But attempts are being made to make his time in the US as enjoyable as possible given the situation.
During his time at the event, Golod met some of the sport’s biggest players, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and even managed to walk with some groups inside the ropes, offering him an unimpeded view of the highest level of golf.
Golod described it as “the best day of his life.”
But it didn’t stop there. Nugent explained that Golod was lent a set of golf clubs — because “his still haven’t arrived,” according to Nugent — and actually played the famous TPC Sawgrass course.
Going through what he has is unimaginable for most, and while he’s safe, his family is never far from his thoughts.
“I’m very thankful for everyone that contributed to me being here and it’s great that I can continue to pursue my goals academically and athletically. But at the same time, it’s very, very nerve-wracking having my whole family back in Ukraine.”