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Erik Van Rooyen had just played the best nine holes of his life.
The South African made a 25-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole at El Cardonal Golf Course, capping a sizzling back-nine 28 and winning the World Wide Technology Championship.
But in his post-round interview with NBC Sports, his mind was elsewhere.
“How could you stay so calm when the stakes were highest?” NBC’s George Savaricas began the interview. Van Rooyen made two consecutive putts from outside 20 feet to erase a two-shot deficit against Matt Kuchar.
Van Rooyen paused for what felt like the longest 10 seconds ever. As his lips parted, tears streamed down his cheeks. It wasn’t about his victory.
“Sorry,” he finally replied. But the silence said it all. He might have just won the tournament, but that wouldn’t change the fact that he was miserable.
“I was calm because there are more important things in life than golf,” Van Rooyen said.
The 33-year-old South African was referring to his best friend and former University of Minnesota teammate Jon Trasamar. Trasamar has been battling stage 4 melanoma for more than a year, and although he had hoped he would have made it by the end of 2022, he hadn’t.
According to a report by Ryan French, after failing to make it out of the first stage of Q-School last fall, Trasamar had to go for a routine check-up only to discover that the cancer had spread to his ribs. Despite treatment and improvement, another visit to the doctor last February revealed that the cancer had spread to his liver, back, spine and legs.
For Van Rooyen, this isn’t just any friend either. When he was just 19 years old and moved from Johannesburg to the United States to visit Minnesota, Trasamar and his family were the first to welcome him.
“Saying goodbye to home wasn’t easy. “Jon and his family lived about two hours from Minneapolis,” Van Rooyen said at his press conference. “I arrived in Minnesota in September 2009 and they were at the airport to pick me up and say hello because he was going to be my roommate and teammate soon after.
“We’ve obviously become best friends.”
On Sunday, 14 years later, Van Rooyen struggled with his friends’ mortality.
“He won’t make it,” Van Rooyen told Savaricas from the 18th green, trying to keep his composure. He later said Trasamar had six to 10 weeks to live. “Every shot was for him today. And when you’re playing for something bigger than winning some silly trophy, it puts things into perspective.
“In the end, it really didn’t matter whether I won or lost here. If something motivates you like that, whether you make a putt or miss a putt, who cares?”
He didn’t pay attention to the fact that he was playing around his job all fall. Van Rooyen finished 125th in the FedEx Cup fall standings for the week, making him the man looking to keep his card when the season ends at Sea Island in two weeks.
But during the final round, or even throughout the week, Van Rooyen gave little indication of how much weight he was carrying.
Especially on the back nine, which he started three to four behind Camillo Villegas. Despite making four birdies in six holes, he was still two behind Kuchar as the final trio made their way to the 16th hole.
Then Van Rooyen put together a dream finish by birding the par-3, adding another at 17 and then, after starting the 18 hole tied with Kuchar, hitting a fairway wood in two on the par from 300 yards. 5-Green hit to set up the winning eagle putt.
But he told Savaricas that he had been hurting inside the whole time.
“It got me down,” Van Rooyen said of the circumstances. “After the round on Friday, I shot… 8 under on Friday, and when I got to my hotel room I just burst into tears, you know?”
The emotions overwhelmed him again.
“So I haven’t been calm the whole time, but when I step on the golf course I have a damn job to do and at the end of the day what matters is: Do your job and now we can celebrate” and cry and act, whatever you want.”
At the winners’ press conference he said he only wanted to play nine holes with Trasamar.
“And it’s extremely selfish that this puts everything into perspective,” he said. “Is it fun to win golf tournaments? Yes it is fun. I’ve been playing golf since I was 8 years old, I’m extremely competitive and we want to win.
“But that doesn’t matter. If I – you know, if I kick the bucket one day, whenever that may be, I won’t think about it.
“I will think about the people I love the most, and Jon Trasamar is one of those people.”
There is nothing selfish about Van Rooyen’s plans after his second win on the PGA Tour. He travels to Minnesota on Monday to visit Trasamar.
https://golf.com/news/erik-van-rooyen-emotional-world-wide-technology-win/ He won the tour event. Then everything poured out for Erik Van Rooyen