Lashley makes triumph from tragedy with PGA Detroit win

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Nate Lashley, who overcame the plane-crash deaths of his parents and girlfriend in 2004 to realise his golf-career dream, captured his first PGA title Sunday at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

The 36-year-old American alternate, who was the last player to make the field, fired a two-under par 70 to complete a wire-to-wire victory at Detroit Golf Club, shooting 25-under 263 for 72 holes to defeat compatriot Doc Redman by six strokes.

“Just really emotional right now,” Lashley said. “Just really thankful I got into the golf tournament. Winning on the PGA Tour is just a dream come true and I’m just glad I got it done today.”

Lashley carried a six-stroke lead into the final round after shooting a 63 last Saturday as he had last Thursday and he was never threatened over the final holes.

Lashley, ranked 353rd in the world, claimed a berth in the British Open in three weeks at Royal Portrush as well as a PGA Tour spot for the next two years.

Nate Lashley celebrates with the trophy after winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Country Club. – AFP

It marked an amazing high point after tragedy struck him 15 years ago when he was a University of Arizona junior. Lashley’s parents and girlfriend died in a plane crash while flying home from watching him play in a tournament.

It’s why his voice was breaking after he tapped in for par on the 18th green to clinch the emotional victory, his older sister Brooke Lashley and current girlfriend Ashlie Reed hugging him on the 18th green in celebration.

“Having my friends and family here, so many of them flew in, I’m just ready to go celebrate with them,” Lashley said.

“It’s huge when you win. You get two years. You get all of this confidence going. You get to play in the (2020) Masters. I couldn’t be more happier right now.”

Redman, a qualifier making only his second PGA start of the year, took the other British Open spot on offer for July at Royal Portrush and collected special temporary US PGA membership for the remainder of the campaign by finishing second with a closing 67.

But the emotional day belonged to Lashley, who had turned away from golf after the tragedy and briefly sold real estate before changing his mind and chasing his dream, becoming a US PGA rookie at age 35 last year only to have a knee injury cut short his campaign.

After starting this season on a medical extension, Lashley made enough money to continue on a secondary level, forcing him into yesterday’s qualifying and into alternate’s roles such as just missing out on last week’s event in Hartford after sharing 28th at Pebble Beach two weeks ago at the US Open in his major debut.

Lashley made the Detroit field on Wednesday when David Berganio withdrew.

No alternate had won a PGA title since Vaughn Taylor at Pebble Beach in 2016.

Lashley sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the first hole and a 10-footer to birdie the third and reach 25-under.

He made bogeys at the sixth and ninth but kept a five-shot edge on the back nine and responded with a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-4 13th.

Fans chanted ‘Let’s Go Lashley’, ahead of his two-putt par at 16 and roared again when Lashley went up and down from deep greenside rough for birdie at the par-5 17th, sinking a seven-foot putt to set the stage for his closing effort.