Emotions were running high across the golf world as Nate Lashley and Christiaan Bezuidenhout claimed heart-warming and popular breakthrough victories on Sunday.
Both players overcame incredible adversity to triumph and will now reap the rewards as tour exemptions and entry into iconic tournaments like The Open Championship and the Masters follow.
But overdue celebration is on the agenda first, with world number 353 Lashley fresh off a six-shot triumph at the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Lashley, now 36, was a promising golfer studying at the University of Arizona when his life was turned upside down 15 years ago.
Returning to Nebraska after watching Lashley play at a tournament, the golfer’s parents, Charlene and Rod, and girlfriend, Leslie, were killed in a tragic airplane crash.
Rod was the pilot, trying to fly in bad weather, and Lashley’s golf career never really got going after. He ended up quitting the game in 2012 and became a real estate agent.
“It was nice to take a few months off, and by taking those few months off and doing some other stuff, I realised golf’s a lot of fun. It’s a blessing to be able to come out here and compete,” Lashley is quoted as saying on Golfworld.
“Especially now playing at the highest level, I’m glad I stuck it out.”
Last man to get into the field to start the week.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 30, 2019
Lashley returned to golf and stints on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica circuit and the Web.com Tour helped him belatedly win a PGA Tour card in 2018.
He scrapped his way into the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the last man to win a spot in the tournament. And with one top-10 finish in 32 PGA Tour starts, he was given little to no chance of challenging the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson in Detroit.
Lashley had other ideas, though, producing a wire-to-wire victory highlighted by nine-under rounds of 63 on day one and three.
“It took me a long time to get over my parents’ death. Mentally, it was holding me back for a long time,” Lashley said.
“I think about my parents all the time.
“And thinking about them today, I was getting a little emotional. Walking up 18, even before I hit my second shot, [I was] thinking about my parents, because without them I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
Unsurprisingly, Lashley, now ranked 101st, struggled to contain his emotions.
In a video on the PGA Tour official website, he added: “Winning on the PGA Tour has always been a dream and getting that done today is a great accomplishment and I’m just really happy.”
Bezuidenhout’s European Tour win at the Andalucia Masters was equally as uplifting, having battled severe anxiety and depression after developing a stutter following a freak accident at the age of two.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) June 30, 2019
The South African unknowingly consumed rat poison, an incident that would change his life forever.
“I was playing outside when I picked up a random Coke bottle,” he wrote on the European Tour website earlier this year.
“I took a drink of it thinking it was indeed Coke, however it actually contained rat poison. It was a moment which would change my life forever.
“As a result of that moment of naivety, I almost died. The hospital had to pump my whole stomach to get rid of all the poison, but the poison affected the whole nervous system in my body and one of the long-term effects of this led to me having a stutter.
“That stutter would eventually lead me to develop a severe case of anxiety.”
Bezuidenhout, now 25, has struggled throughout his life with anxiety and depression, and “felt like my life was over” after medication he was on saw him return a positive drugs test at a 2014 tournament.
Even though it was ruled that the anxiety medication was not used to help Bezuidenhout’s performance, he still sat out nine months.
That gave him an incredible source of determination, though, and he cruised to his first European Tour win, holding off world number 11 Jon Rahm to win by six shots.
“I was nervous,” Bezuidenhout said afterwards.
“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.”