I watched more golf than I probably care to admit for a Sunday afternoon in November. The fall is not the time for professional golf. You were probably watching football. Fall recreational golf? Sure. It was a beautiful weekend in much of the country. You should have played. But my job involves being at least generally aware of pro golf, even in November, so I watched much of the final round of the World Wide Technology Championship at Diamanté. I found some interest in the grinders trying to improve their status — whether it was to keep their card like Chesson Hadley, to battle into the “next 10,” or just to make some money and keep the dream going. There were also pros who’ve been doing it for decades like Matt Kuchar and Camilo Villegas, guys who are probably not hard-up for cash but are still hustling their asses off for late-career wins. I found myself admiring that.
There were some interesting moving pieces that appealed to me. Again, this is my job and I am also a golf addict. But even so, I couldn’t help but ask early in the final round: why is this event happening? Who is watching this instead of football right now? Who is this for?
Then Erik van Rooyen came in with 28 on the back nine, poured an eagle putt in the heart on the 72nd hole, and cried his eyes out with his caddie, Alex Gaugert, van Rooyen’s former college teammate at Minnesota. Van Rooyen opened up before the final round about what was weighing heavily on his mind this week: another friend and former college teammate, Jon Trasamar, is at the Mayo Clinic undergoing treatment for melanoma. Van Rooyen, through tears, said that his friend “was not going to make it.” The South African spoke of the balance that brought him throughout the week, as he battled for his card with his “best friend” on his mind, breaking down in his hotel room between rounds, and then again at the end with a trophy that meant far less than a visit on Tuesday to Minnesota to see Trasamar. Perhaps that perspective — “whether I won here or lost here, it really did not matter” — is what enabled van Rooyen to play such good golf. But what a weight to carry around as you try to secure your professional future.
Between the embrace with his caddie and van Rooyen’s words after the win, it was as powerful a scene as we’ve seen on the PGA Tour this year. It was also a quick personal reminder to this writer of at least a few people this event was for. The audience might be small, the general interest may be negligible. But these fall events still serve as competition at the highest levels, with pros playing with heart and purpose for a wide variety of stakes, both personal and professional.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.