Emotions Run High on Both Sides of the Atlantic
Two tournaments on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean produced two incredible stories this weekend, proving once again that just when you thought you had heard everything, golf is capable of stopping you dead in your tracks.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout will not forget his first European Tour victory in a hurry. The South African won the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama by six shots, seeing off the challenge of Jon Rahm in the process and securing a place in the field for The Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
He started the day with a three-shot lead and at one point it was cut to three, but he held on for a final round of 71 that saw him finish the week on 10 under par. Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera and local favourite Adri Arnaus joined Bezuidenhout in qualifying for The Open as the top three players in the top ten not already exempt. Spaniards Eduardo de la Riva and Alvaro Quiros also finished in a five way tie at four under but missed out due to sitting lower on the Official World Golf Ranking, while Rahm is already exempt.
Bezuidenhout's victory completes a remarkable story for a player who has had to overcome adversity since a young age. At the age of two he drank rat poison, an incident that led to him developing a stammer that caused him to suffer anxiety. The beta blockers he took to combat his stammer led to him failing a doping test at the 2014 Amateur Championship and while his two-year ban was reduced to nine months after officials realised he had not been seeking to gain a competitive advantage, he missed out on representing his country at the Eisenhower Trophy.
Now he is a European Tour winner in his 57th appearance and moves into the top 10 of the Race to Dubai after also finishing second and third this season.
"I'm proud of myself hanging in there today," he said."I had a tough stretch in the middle of my round from five to seven there. I made a great save on eight which just kept the momentum on my side and I bounced back with three birdies in a row. That just settled me down nicely, I just had to keep on hitting greens and the rest will take care of itself.
"I was nervous. It's a tough golf course, anything can happen, especially those last three holes playing into the wind. I'm really pleased with the way I played and to finish it off is unbelievable."
Bezuidenhout made a terrific start with approaches to ten and four feet at the first and second to get to 12 under and at that point he led by seven shots. A poor lie on the third led to a first bogey of the day and while he had scrambled brilliantly in round three, he seemed to have lost that touch in the middle of the front nine. He missed the green at the fifth, failed to get up and down from a bunker on the sixth and came up short of the putting surface on the next for three bogeys in a row. More sand was found on the eighth but this time Bezuidenhout did get up and down, and that proved to be the fillip he needed as he hit a wonderful approach to eight feet on the ninth and rolled in a left to righter for birdie.
Raw emotion.— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 1, 2019
What it means to win on The European Tour. pic.twitter.com/gObklETXPO
Playing partner Rahm was within three shots at that point as he turned in 34 with birdies on the first, fourth and ninth and dropped shots on the second and fifth. But Bezuidenhout pulled away, putting another approach to eight feet for a gain on the tenth and taking advantage of the par five 11th to lead by six, a cushion he maintained despite dropping a shot on the 15th.
Rahm's chances disappeared as he bogeyed the 10th and then made a double on the 12th, with a birdie on the 17th moving him into the tie for second. Quiros made eight birdies and three bogeys in a roller coaster 66, while Lorenzo-Vera needed a par save on the last to get to Royal Portrush after making gains on the first, fourth and sixth in a 68.
Arnaus was one over after 10 holes but made four birdies in five from the 12th before bogeying the last, while De la Riva also signed for a 69. Tournament host Garcia was three under after a 71 - making it 14 top tens in 15 appearances at Valderrama - a shot ahead of Thomas Bjørn, Thomas Detry, Gavin Green, Bernd Ritthammer and Hideto Tanihara.
NATE LASHLEY completed an emotional six-shot victory over Doc Redman at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit and was immediately embraced by his sister, Brooke. It was a highly-charged moment for the siblings, who lost both their parents, Rod and Char, and Lashley’s then girlfriend in a plane crash in 2004.
They had flown in Rod’s four-seat, single-engine Mooney M20K from Nebraska to watch Nate and his team play in the NCAA Regional and were returning home
Brooke Lashley, who travelled to Pebble Beach to watch her brother play in the U.S. Open, was back home in Phoenix and a trip to Detroit GC “wasn’t on my radar.” At least, not until her brother, who got into the field mid-day Wednesday as the last alternate, shot a 63 in the third round and took a six-shot lead into the final day.
Brooke decided to book flights to be at her brother’s side, and she was joined by other friends and family. “It made me feel like I wasn’t out there alone,” said Lashley, 36, playing in just his 33rd PGA Tour event.
It has been a huge struggle for Lashley since he turned professional, bouncing from one mini-tour to another. He won the Colorado Open, a couple of Waterloo Opens, he won on the Gateway Tour, on the EGolf Tour, on the Dakotas Tour, then in 2015 he won three times on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, which afforded him a chance to play on the Korn Ferry Tour where in 2017 he won the Corales Puntacana Resort. Things had been so bad for Lashley that at one point he walked away from golf and took a job as an estate agent.
Scott Stallings, a PGA Tour winner who competed against Lashley in the 2008 Waterloo Open, said. “I have so much respect for what he’s done, because the valleys are way more than the peaks,” said Stallings. “I’m rooting for him.” Lashley shot rounds of 63, 67, 63 and 70 for a total of 263. He also collected a cheque for $1.3m and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
“I’ve been through a lot. It took a lot of years for me to get over [the loss of his parents). It was mentally holding me back for a long time,” said Lashley, the world’s 353rd-ranked player whose only other top 10 before this week was a T-8 in Puerto Rico. “I think of my parents all the time. Without them, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Emotional and thankful.
A dream come true for @NateLashley. pic.twitter.com/ryHH3yztPy — PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 30, 2019
Leading by six going into the final round, though, he admitted that he still felt nervous. A birdie at the first and another on the third mostly took care of that. The lead never got smaller than four strokes, with Lashley appearing in complete control throughout. It was only as he walked up the 18th fairway that the emotion and enormity of all he had been through finally hit him, and he finally let it all out, with his sister, Brooke, and girlfriend, Ashley, there to cry along with him.
Asked for what she said to her brother after he walked off the final green, Brooke wiped away tears and shook her head. They will remain private, just for brother and sister. Just as it should be.
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