“Dude, it has been crazy.” At this point in 2022, Corey Pereira had no clue of the battles that lay ahead. His key concern surrounded poor form, which would ultimately lead to him losing status on the Korn Ferry Tour, the understudy to the PGA Tour. Golfing dreams lay shattered.
“I was struggling with my game,” he says. “I was upset, frustrated. It’s not a good place to be. My first year out there, I got injured and lost my card that way. Last year, I didn’t have an excuse. Golf is about fine lines. I was on one side of that as an amateur, unfortunately the last couple of years I’ve been on the other. I knew I had to get better, step up my work and improve.”
The 28-year-old was oblivious to the path his life was about to follow. Pereira’s qualification for the 123rd US Open, which begins at Los Angeles Country Club on Thursday, provides a timely and endearing human antidote to the Saudi Arabian corporate obscenity that has engulfed the sport.
Last October, Pereira’s girlfriend, Leah Bertuccelli, was diagnosed with a rare form of soft-tissue cancer. The immediate outlook was horrendous. From worrying about Tour status, Pereira removed himself completely from competitive golf.
“Leah had a terrible diagnosis,” Pereira says. “Initially, it was looking pretty grim. They used phrases like ‘potentially not treatable’. It was an extremely difficult couple of months after my season finished. We didn’t know what we were getting; we had a wrong biopsy, doctors who were a bit confused.
“From there I decided to shut things down golf-wise. I didn’t know the extent of what was going on with Leah and felt it was more important to stay with her, to be a good family guy during that time. Golf could definitely take a step back.”
Leah was admitted to the oncology department at the acclaimed Stanford University. A GoFundMe page has comfortably surpassed the $25,000 sought to assist with costs. A different kind of scrap altogether lay ahead.
“They looked at it and said it would be very difficult but it was treatable,” Pereira says. “She needed to go through 12 rounds of chemo and almost two months of radiotherapy. They became a bit more optimistic as things moved on but I had decided I was going to see her through all of this.
“Golf was on the backburner. I was still practising, working with my coach and going through some projects on what I had been frustrated with for a couple of seasons while taking care of Leah. It was a whole lot easier not being on the road.
“I have had my fair share of tears and so has Leah. It’s not easy by any means but you almost get numb to it at some point. It toughened us as a couple because you just have to keep fighting. There is no other option.”
The radiotherapy is complete. Leah, 26, has undergone 10 of her chemo sessions. “Things are improving,” Pereira says. “The cancer has reduced in size. She is doing a great job and fighting very hard. The doctors are encouraged so we are cautiously optimistic. Nothing makes me happier than hearing positive news from the doctors.
“She is strong but a little beat up. This has been a long journey with a lot of road bumps. Random stuff can happen with chemo and she has been in hospital a few more times with minor complications. But on the whole she is significantly better now.”
Pereira was two over after nine holes of US Open local qualifying in Nevada. He had made such a late call to play that there were no spaces available in his native California. The response was staggering given this was Pereira’s first start in months; he followed up a 70 with rounds of 65 and 70 at final qualifying in Columbus to earn a major berth. “I’m buzzing right now,” he says. “I cannot wait.”
Pereira smiles when asked whether he felt fate was on his side during qualifying. “If it was anything but golf I might say that. Golf can be pretty cruel sometimes.”
Which is not at all to say his attitude has not been completely altered. When en route to Ohio, Pereira stopped off in New York. His cousin was performing in Bad Cinderella and Pereira says: “It was her dream from seven or eight years old to be on Broadway.
“I was able to watch her performance before it closed. It was awesome, she was so good. So between that and what has been going on with Leah, I was pretty inspired out there over 36 holes. My cousin reaching her dream, Leah fighting so hard … I realised all these people around me are so tough, I can get through this. I realised how lucky I was to be out there competing. You don’t get that feeling doing much else.”
Pereira will head to LA with characteristically high expectation. “On the other hand, I am not going to let pressure take away from what is going to be the best week of my life up until this point,” he says.
The future, understandably, is unclear. “We need to get through this as a family first. I want to compete. I want to come back better than ever and be the story of: ‘Hey, the early part of that guy’s career may not have been great but he really got good, late.’”
The tale is already one of self-sacrifice.