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Monday Scramble: Overcoming adversity in all its forms

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Nate Lashley becomes an inspiration, Doc Redman improves his standing, Christiaan Bezuidenhout battles his demons, Michelle Wie shuts it down, the 2018 Oklahoma State team continues to impress, Brooks Koepka strips down (again!) and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble:

Golf at the highest level is about superstars and greatness, about the world’s best showcasing their skills on the grandest stage. And then along comes a week like the one we just had, when we’re reminded that there’s so much more to the people who play this great game – that these are not just robots who happen to possess an otherworldly talent.

At one point Sunday, these were the four players who had either won their respective tournament or were leading during the final round:

• Nate Lashley, who 15 years ago lost his parents and girlfriend in a plane crash;

• Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who at the age of 2 accidentally drank rat poison and who, for much of his life, has battled debilitating anxiety, depression and stuttering;

• Justin Lower, who in 2005 lost his father and younger brother in a drunk-driving accident;

• And Daniela Darquea, whose father was murdered in Ecuador a decade ago.

Only two went on to win, but that’s not the point.

Their compelling backstories, their perseverance in the face of personal tragedy, give fans a reason to cheer and provide much-needed flavor for a game that too often is about only the best and the brightest.   

1. By now you’ve probably heard Nate Lashley’s story of unimaginable personal loss. How he lost his parents and gave up the game. How he rediscovered his passion while in golf’s minor leagues, working his way up the ladder until he reached the PGA Tour. How on Sunday, after starting the week as the third alternate, he became a runaway winner of the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.

If not, well, here’s colleague Will Gray’s piece. Lashley’s story is one of the best of the season.

2. Entering the final leg of the Tour season, Lashley wasn’t guaranteed to keep his card for next season. He entered the week at the Rocket Mortgage at No. 132 in the FedExCup standings, with little time to make up ground.

Then came the magical week in Detroit, where he led wire to wire and displayed the type of poise you’d expect from a grizzled veteran, not a 36-year-old who was in the position for the first time.

Now he’s $1.3 million richer. He’s in the 2020 Masters. And, best of all, he’s secured his Tour card through 2021-22.

3. Not sure why or when their paths would ever cross, but Lashley probably owes David Berganio Jr. a drink.

It was Berganio who withdrew before the start of the tournament (no reason was given) to open the door for Lashley to play this week. That Berganio was even in the field and Lashley wasn’t is a story for another day – Berganio is 50 years old and hasn’t played full time on Tour since 2009 – but it’s further proof that at this level, any of the 156 players in the field are good enough to win come Sunday night.

Lashley is the first alternate to win on Tour since 2016 (Vaughn Taylor).

4. That could turn out to be a life-changing seven days for Doc Redman.

The 2017 U.S. Amateur champion fired a sizzling 62 to lead the Monday qualifiers into the Rocket Mortgage, but he wasn’t done there. He posted four consecutive rounds of 68 or better – including a Sunday 67 when he really needed it – to finish solo second and lock up special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, allowing him to earn unlimited sponsor exemptions for the next month.

Why is that important? Because Redman had no status on either the big tour or the Korn Ferry circuit. He was planning today to travel to the next step on the Mackenzie (Canadian) Tour, but instead he’s headed to Minnesota for this week’s 3M Open.

Redman, 21, can earn a 2019-20 Tour card if he earns as many or more points as No. 125 on this season’s FedExCup standings. He has 344 points; last season, for a point of reference, he would have needed 377. He’s closing in and now has more starts to get it done.

5. Holding a giant lead on the European Tour for the first time, Christiaan Bezuidenhout looked impressive in cruising to a six-shot victory in Spain. It was a momentous win for the 24-year-old South African, but it also provided a moment to reflect on his remarkable journey, which we documented here. Poisoned as a child, depressed and anxious as a teenager, banned from the sport as an amateur – it was all part of Bezuidenhout’s remarkable rise.

Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, finished seventh in his bid for a fourth consecutive title at Valderrama. Though he continues to downplay the state of his game, it was Garcia’s third top-7 finish in the last eight starts.

6. It was Sung Hyun Park who prevailed in Arkansas to return to No. 1 in the world, but once again much of the discussion was about a star player who wasn't there.

Michelle Wie announced last week that she was sitting out the rest of the season to let her lingering wrist/hand injury fully heal.

That’s the suggestion that we made in this space a week ago, because that’s the only way for Wie to know whether her career is truly over; so it was refreshing to see her take such a mature, measured approach.

It’s still been a nice career for Wie, with five LPGA wins including a major, but this break at least gives her a chance to play into her 30s.  

7. Much has been of the future star power of Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff – and deservedly so – but it’s another member of Oklahoma State’s 2017-18 NCAA title team that is already in the winner’s circle.

Kris Ventura, who was the lone senior on the 2018 squad, broke through on the Korn Ferry Tour to crack the top 25 and move closer to securing a Tour card for next season. Ventura outlasted Joshua Creel in three extra holes to claim the title and move from 107th to No. 17 in the season-long standings.

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Ventura, who finished in a tie for third a month ago on a sponsor exemption to earn starts for the rest of the season.

This 2017-18 Cowboys team – which won 10 times, including the national title on its home course – will only look better a decade from now. It had some real studs.

If you’re wondering what Brooks Koepka was doing in advance of his appearance this week at the inaugural 3M, well, here you go, courtesy of his girlfriend’s Instagram account:

My eyes aren't fully prepared for this to become a thing.

This week's award winners ... 

MIA: Your father’s USGA. After record scoring at Pebble Beach, the seniors also had their way during what was supposed to be the toughest major of the year. Steve Stricker shot a tournament-record 261 (19 under) at Warren Golf Course to win the U.S. Senior Open by six for his second career senior major. Where’s Mike Davis when you really need him?!

Hope You Don’t Mind Snoozers: Past two PGA Tour weekends. It’s the first time since 2005 that players built 54-hole leads of at least six shots on back-to-back weeks. Maybe we’ll get a little more drama in Minnesota.

Progress, But, Um, Not Really: Cam Champ. The erstwhile Next Big Thing finally netted his first top-50 since February, except while playing in the final group Saturday with the eventual champ, Champ got absolutely run over, losing head-to-head by 12 shots on his way to a middling T-46 via a 75-73 weekend. Yikes.

On His Way: Viktor Hovland. It didn’t take the former Oklahoma State star to settle into pro life. With a closing, bogey-free 64 in Detroit, Hovland tied for 13th and earned some valuable points as he tries to earn status for 2019-20 – or at least an invitation to the Korn Ferry Finals.

The Star That Burns Twice as Bright Burns Half as Long: Chris Williams. The former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world and former Washington standout was billed for stardom, but he recently retired from golf after a career in which he never advanced past the PGA Tour’s Canadian circuit. You just never know.

Well, It's a Start: Smylie Kaufman. The one-time Tour winner has fallen on hard times recently, but his made cut at the Rocket Mortgage was his first since January 2018. Then he followed it up with an 80 and finished last among those who played the weekend.

End of an Era: Zach Johnson. The two-time major champion officially dropped out of the top 100 in the world ranking (he’s now 103rd) for the first time since April 2004.  

Still Ballin’: Tom Watson. At the U.S. Senior Open, Watson not only shot his age (69) in the opening round, but then he bettered it twice (68) to make the cut and then finish 17th. Studly, even after all of these years.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Dustin Johnson. In a new event, it’s never a bad idea to go chalk, and so of course DJ – the default No. 1 against a weak field – decided not to show up, missing his first cut since the 2018 Open. Sigh.