He won this week’s Tour event. He shot a back-nine 28. Then it all came pouring out
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Erik van Rooyen had just played the best nine holes of his life. A sizzling back-nine 28 at Tiger Woods’ El Cardonal Golf Course, the last of which was a 25-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole to win the World Wide Technology Championship.
He raised his fist to the air, stoically, picked his ball out of the hole and walked over to caddie Alex Gaugert, embracing him, the same thing they did at the start of the week.
Then everything that this week was hit him.
“How were you able to be so calm when the stakes were the highest?” NBC’s George Savaricas began his post-round interview. Van Rooyen had made back-to-back-to-back putts from outside 20 feet to erase a two-shot deficit to Matt Kuchar.
Van Rooyen paused for what felt like the longest 10 seconds ever. By the time his lips opened, there were tears coming down his cheek.
“Sorry,” he finally replied.
“I was calm because there’s bigger stuff in life than golf,” van Rooyen said.
The 33-year-old 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 while he hoped he had cleared it by late 2022, he hadn’t. According to reporting by Ryan French, after failing to make it out of the first stage of Q-School last fall, Trasamar went for a follow-up, and it was discovered the cancer had spread to his ribs. Despite treatment and improvement, another trip to the doctor this past February revealed the cancer spread to his liver, back, spine and legs.
Now, van Rooyen said Trasamar has just six to 10 weeks to live.
This isn’t just any friend for van Rooyen, either. At 19, when he moved to the U.S. from Johannesburg to attend Minnesota, Trasamar and his family were the first to welcome him, right at the airport. Trasamar’s family lived just two hours from Minneapolis, and they were set to be roommates for their freshman year.
They ended up living together for three out of their four years on campus.
Sunday, 14 years later, van Rooyen was wrestling with his friend’s mortality.
“He’s not gonna make it,” van Rooyen told Savaricas off the 18 green, trying to keep himself composed. “Every shot out there today was for him. And when you’re playing for something bigger than winning some silly trophy, it puts things in perspective.
“At the end of the day, whether I won here or I lost here, it really did not matter. When something motivates you like that, whether you make a putt or miss a putt, who cares?”
He paid no mind to the fact he’s been playing this entire fall for his job. Van Rooyen came into the week ranked 125th in the FedEx Cup Fall standings, the bubble man to keep his card when the season ends in two weeks.
But during the final round, or throughout the entire week for that matter, van Rooyen hardly showed any sign of the weight he was carrying.
Especially on the back nine, which he started four behind then-leader Camillo Villegas. Despite making four birdies in six holes, he was still two back of Kuchar as the final trio made their way to the 16th hole.
Then van Rooyen put together a dream finish, birding the par-3, adding another one at 17 and then, after starting the 18th hole tied with Kuchar, striping a fairway wood from 300 yards onto the par-5 green in two to set up the winning eagle putt.
But he told Savaricas he was still hurting on the inside the entire time.
“It dragged me down,” van Rooyen said of the circumstances. “After Friday’s round, I shot … eight under on Friday and I get to my hotel room and I just break down in tears, you know?”
The emotions were overcoming him again.
“So I wasn’t calm all the time, but when I step onto the golf course, I have a fricking job to do and that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day, do your job and, now we can celebrate and cry and do whatever you want.”
At his winner’s press conference, he said all he wanted to do was play nine holes with Trasamar.
“And extremely selfishly, that puts all of this into perspective,” he said. “Is it fun to win golf tournaments? Yeah, it’s fun. I’ve been playing golf since I was 8 years old, extremely competitive and we want to win.
“But it doesn’t matter. When I’m — you know, when I kick the bucket one day, whenever that might be, this is not what I’m going to be thinking about.
“I’m going to be thinking about the people that I love the most, and Jon Trasamar is one of those people.”
A few minutes later, van Rooyen’s interviews were over. The tournament was done. A new week was starting. On Monday, he’ll be in Minnesota. With a trophy.
With his best friend.