Sometimes, things in life are far bigger than golf.
Sunday at the World Wide Technology Championship was one of those instances. Erik Van Rooyen fired off a final round 63 to finish at 27-under par and earn his second career PGA Tour event. But that’s not what left him so emotional afterwards.
The 33-year-old sank a clutch 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th to come home in 28 strokes and beat a red-hot Matt Kuchar by two shots.
He played for something greater than himself this week, which motivated him to finish the job. After his round, the emotional South African broke down in tears as he spoke with the Golf Channel.
“There’s bigger stuff in life than golf,” van Rooyen said. “If you look at my ball, we got little music notes on there and initials J.T. It’s for Jon Trasamar, our best friend who has melanoma and is not going to make it. Every shot out there today was for him, and when you’re playing for something bigger than winning some silly trophy, it puts it into perspective.”
“At the end of the day, whether I won or lost here, it did not matter. When something motivates you like that, whether you make or miss a putt, who cares?”
Once that ball fell into the hole, the emotional wall he had been holding up all day came down with it. All week long, he had to keep those emotions in check on the golf course.
“I shot 8-under on Friday. I get to my hotel room, and I break down in tears. I wasn’t that calm all the time, but when I step onto the golf course, I’ve got a job to do,” van Rooyen said teary-eyed. “That’s what it comes down to — do your job. Now, we can celebrate, cry, and do whatever, but until that last putt drops — its focus, and do it for Trassie.”
The former Minnesota Gopher made a bogey on the opening hole, but after that, he regained focus to make the turn at 1-under.
Once he reached the back nine, van Rooyen went nuclear. He made birdie or better on seven of those nine holes.
This victory gets him a lot of perks.
Van Rooyen will now play in the 2024 Sentry Tournament of Champions, has an exemption into The Players and will have playing status through the 2025 season.
However, those things don’t mean as much right now.
“When something like this happens where your best friend who was best man in my wedding, what’s it, nine years ago now, when he’s hit with melanoma, it puts things in perspective while golf doesn’t really matter,” he said.
“When I’m 80 years old, if I get to that age and look back, if I lost it [the tournament], I certainly wouldn’t remember it. I’m going to remember the people I spent time with, the people I love, and he’s certainly one of them, so I look forward to seeing him.”
Moments like these make people fall deeper in love with sports. Those times that see athletes dig deep and do incredible things.
Now that he has completed the job in Mexico, Van Rooyen and his caddie, Alex Gaugert, will fly to Minnesota on Monday to see their best friend. They will be able to celebrate this victory and spend whatever time they have left with him.
Savannah Leigh Richardson is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow her on Twitter @SportsGirlSL and Instagram @savannah_leigh_sports for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.