Nate Lashley’s triumph at the Rocket Mortgage Classic may have slipped under the radar this weekend but it also provided sports fans with the most inspiring story of the year.
The 36-year old journeyman’s road to victory in Detroit is steeped in both utter heartbreak and unbridled joy, so when he came to speak to the press after claiming his first PGA Tour win, tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, it was clear we’d just witnessed a very special moment in golfing history.
When Lashley was just a 21-year-old junior at the University of Arizona, both his parents, Rod and Charlene, and his girlfriend, Leslie, came to watch Nate in action at the NCAA West Regional at Crosswater Club in Sunriver, Ore. Tragically, they would never see each other again.
En route back to Nebraska in bad weather, the plane carrying the three people closest to Nate crashed near Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s tallest mountain. There were no survivors.
Many of us would probably lose focus and ambition after such anguish and suffering but Nate incredibly regrouped and went on to become Arizona’s top player, earn All-American honours, graduate and turn professional.
Of course, it would never be an easy road for Lashley who was still, understandably, grieving. A poor run of form on the green from 2006 onwards led Nate to temporarily put down his clubs for six months in 2012 and turned his attention to real estate and flipping houses.
Golf still had a hold on him though and in 2015, his brief golfing hiatus came to an end when he qualified for PGA Tour Latinoamerica and placed in 8th. From there, he won Player of the Year on the development circuit in 2016, earning himself a Web.com Tour card for the following year and then went on to earn a PGA Tour card for 2018.
Ranked No. 353 in the world, Lashley, as the third alternate, was the last player added to the field for the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic. Lashley made the most of his opportunity though, and at one point went an incredible 39 straight holes without a single bogey.
He was six ahead going into the final round and it became a game of keeping his nerves together and not letting his lead slip at the last hurdle. If he was nervous, however, you’d struggle to notice - the rookie’s lead never went smaller than four strokes.
As Nate approached the 18th, alongside his sister and girlfriend, the magnitude of what he had achieved began to take shape. The last man in was now the last man standing and Nate Lashley, whose story and journey are utterly heartbreaking, had just won his first PGA Tour.
“I think about my parents all the time,” Lashley said after his win.
“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.”