Once in a while, winning a golf tournament goes deeper than a shiny trophy, a big check and healthy dose of job insurance.
When you’re Nate Lashley and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, the stories run soul deep.
Until last week, Lashley and Bezuidenhout were just names in the list of scores each week. Now they’re two players whose stories tell us more about them than the shots they hit and the scores they shoot.
Lashley’s victory in the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday did more than put a face and a name together for fans more familiar with the Rickie Fowlers and Jordan Spieths of the world. It was a reminder of the human side of the professional game that can be easily lost amid the birdies and bogeys and big events.
Lashley’s story is stained by heartbreak, his parents and girlfriend having died in a 2004 plane crash as they were flying home from watching him play a college golf event.
As he chased his first PGA Tour victory, having slipped into the field at the last minute as an alternate, Lashley’s story provided the drama to what was a lopsided result. Seeing his sister Brooke behind the 18th green, tears in her eyes, helped tell the story of his journey.
“I’ve been through a lot,” the 36-year-old Lashley said Sunday. “It took a lot of years for me to get over my parents’ death, for sure. It was mentally holding me back for a long time.
“I think about my parents all the time. … I was getting a little emotional even walking up 18 even before I hit my second shot thinking about my parents, because without them I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Bezuidenhout’s Sunday triumph in the European Tour’s Andalucía Masters came with its own inspirational backdrop. As a 2-year-old in South Africa, Bezuidenhout picked up a soda bottle filled with rat poison and drank it.
Though he was rushed to a hospital where his stomach was pumped, the poison had lingering effects on his nervous system, leading to severe anxiety and a stutter later in life. Eventually Bezuidenhout was prescribed beta blockers to help him but it led to him testing positive at the 2014 British Amateur.
He was given a two-year ban from competition that was eventually reduced to nine months. Now, despite the various challenges, Bezuidenhout has his first European Tour victory and his own chapter in the game’s book of inspirational stories.
• Just wondering what it says about golfers and equipment that Steve Stricker went back to a set of 13-year old Titleist irons last week when he dominated the U.S. Senior Open.
It probably says more about Stricker than it does about anything else.
• Tom Watson, 10 years removed from his heartbreaking near miss at the Open Championship won by Stewart Cink, shot his age or better three times at the Senior Open at Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course. In the final round, Watson – who turns 70 on Sept. 4 – made seven birdies on a Sunday USGA setup.
And he left a couple out there.
One more reminder there haven’t been many like him.
• Here’s a number not often associated with USGA championships: 32-under par.
That is the combined total posted by Gary Woodland (13 under) and Steve Stricker (19 under) in winning the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open, respectively.
Maybe next year when those championships move to Winged Foot and Newport (R.I.) Country Club the winning scores will fall into more traditional parameters. It’s not necessary, though. Those championships were blessedly free of complaints, a pleasant change.
• It’s getting late early on the PGA Tour this season.
Only five weeks and seven tournaments remain before the revamped FedEx Cup playoffs begin and there are some familiar names sitting outside the top 125 at the moment.
Zach Johnson, Beau Hossler, Alex Norén, Jimmy Walker, Cink and Sam Saunders need to make a move if they’re going to have a spot in the first playoff event, the Northern Trust at Liberty National in August.
Rory McIlroy has 11 top-10 finishes in 14 starts with two victories. Does that make him player of the year (winning the Players Championship is a big one) or does Brooks Koepka’s 2-1-2 finishes in the majors give him the edge?
Meanwhile, Justin Thomas, Adam Scott, Tony Finau, Jason Day, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth have not won this season. On the other hand, Rory McIlroy has 11 top-10 finishes in 14 starts with two victories.
Does that make him player of the year (winning the Players Championship is a big one) or does Brooks Koepka’s 2-1-2 finishes in the majors give him the edge?
The Open Championship may decide it.
• There’s a reasonable argument to be made about avoiding social media, then Phil Mickelson shows up and turns into Stephen Colbert.
Mickelson’s little storytelling bits are pure Phil gold and the best part is he will probably grow tired of doing them before he runs out of stories.
Phil being Phil, again.
Nate Lashley acknowledges fans as he walks to the 18th green during the final round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images
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