It’s a different competition, longer in duration with a far more lasting and important impact. With more than 570,000 dead and the world economy on ice, biotech and pharmaceutical companies race each other and the clock to develop the safest and most effective vaccine for the latest strain of coronavirus.
One of those companies, CureVac AG, headquartered in Tübingen, Germany, is doing so with the help of an LET rookie just a few months removed from being among the best amateur golfers in the world.
Exactly two years ago, Leonie Harm completed what, for many, would have been the story of a lifetime. The then 20-year-old from Stuttgart, who played for the University of Houston, defeated American Stephanie Lau 3 and 2 to become the first German national ever to win the Ladies’ British Amateur, an event first contested in 1893.
As if that victory weren’t enough, Harm won after coming back from injuries that left her on the edge of death. In 2013, while out for a run, she was struck by a drunk driver going an estimated 45 miles an hour. Paramedics on the scene gave Harm a one-percent chance of making it.
“For her to come back the way she did and play so well, it’s truly remarkable,” said Houston Women’s Golf head coach Gerrod Chadwell, the husband of LPGA star Stacy Lewis. “Then you throw in the fact that she got her degree in bioresearch (biochemistry and biophysics) from our place, and to overcome the adversity that she did and become one of the top-5 amateurs in the world before she left (and turned pro), it’s wonderful for our program to have someone like Leo.”
Harm qualified for the LET and opened her professional career in 2020 at the Geoff King Motors Ladies Australian Classic where she made the cut, finished in the top 45 and beat a solid handful of LPGA Tour players. She also played in New South Wales and at the Investec South African Women’s Open where she made another cut and finished in the top 40 – steady progress and a solid start.
Then, she returned to Germany where in her words, “everything shut down in a matter of days (due to coronavirus).”
She chuckles at what happened next. “I said to my family, I think I’m going to get a job,” Harm said. “They were like, ‘you’ve never had a job in her life.’ Golf was always my full-time job. I did school and golf. I got my degree from Houston, which was quite a grind juggling the class schedule and being a student-athlete. But I hadn’t ever worked a job job. Still, I find all the things like genetic engineering and biotech super fascinating.”
Her degree made her resume attractive, but golf played a role in getting her hired. The majority shareholder at CureVac is also the president of the Golf Club St. Leon-Rot just south of Heidelberg, the host site of the 2015 Solheim Cup.
“When I spoke with (human resources), they asked when I could start and I said, ‘right away,’” Harm said. “But then they said, ‘you will hear back in three or four weeks.’ That was a surprise because I thought they needed people right away. Then I got a call back an hour later saying, ‘We just heard from your boss and you will be starting next week.’”
She is an intern and goes out of her way to emphasize that she is far from serving on the front line. “Obviously, I’m not the person figuring these things out,” she said. “I’m helping them with the busy work so that they can focus and be more efficient at their jobs.”
Those jobs include having a COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials, while work continues on cures for cancer, HIV and many other diseases.
“It’s important to be a part of this work,” Harm said. “Seeing how the methods work and getting to know the people who do this has been great. This has also been a nice break from golf. I love golf, obviously, but I feel like I would have eventually gone crazy working on golf all the time with nowhere to compete. So, it’s been really nice to explore something that I want to do at the end of my golf career.
“I hope that my golf career will go on for many years. But you never know so it’s great to have something practical and be familiar with, especially when it’s something that you love.”
“When she left (Houston) the plan was to play golf as long as she can and maybe go to med school afterward,” Chadwell said. “We are a great academic school and Leo shines a light on that, which is wonderful for her and for us.
“It’s really a cool story,” Chadwell said. “Hopefully she gets to play golf for a long time. But she also said that one of her goals was to help cure cancer (a disease that claimed her mother and grandmother).
“Let’s hope she can make that happen as well.”