More than likely Nate Lashley is a name you have never heard of and, if you have, it would likely have been for all the wrong reasons.
Lashley was raised in Nebraska, but his skill level in golf was good enough to get a golf scholarship to the University of Arizona. In 2004, during his junior year, he was competing in the Western Regional and his parents and girlfriend flew to Oregon to cheer him on. Tragically, on the homeward flight, the aircraft that Nate’s father was piloting crashed and all were lost including his mother, father, and his girlfriend. Nate’s world as he knew it had changed forever.
In the aftermath of the accident, he continued playing golf but, understandably, the fire was just not there. In fact, as late as 2015, Nate was spending more time selling real estate than he was playing golf.
With no PGA Tour status and ranked 353rd in the world, Lashley had little hope of getting into the field at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. After Monday qualifying, he was listed as the third alternate, and then something good happened. Lashley learned that he was the last man into the field. It was definitely a case of making the most of an unexpected opportunity, as he won by a whopping six shots and became only the second player from Nebraska to win a PGA Tour event and only the third player to gain entry as an alternate and go on to win.
I’m sure Lashley had his dreams to play big-time golf and it would be easy to assume that controlling emotions and nerves coming down the stretch would be difficult. However, after the unbearable tragedy he experienced in his personal life, it seemed that Lashley knew how to keep things in proper perspective as he played his way into the winner’s circle.
Lashley met the challenge head-on and took full advantage of the opportunity by making nine birdies in the first round but more important, no bogies. In the second round, he posted a 67. In the third round he went low again with a 63 and then had to sleep on a lead for the first time in his career, even though it was six shots. But he measured up to the task as he closed out the final round on Sunday with a stellar two under-par round of 70 for his first PGA Tour victory and all that goes along with it. Ironically, Chez Reavie won the Travelers Championship the previous week by six shots and Steve Stricker has just won the U.S. Senior Championship by six shots.
It’s a big accomplishment just to get into a PGA Tour field and then getting in as an alternate at the last minute can create an enormous amount of pressure to take advantage of the opportunity. Winning as an alternate is a rare occurrence. To his great credit, Nate Lashley took advantage of the opportunity and became only the third alternate to win on the PGA Tour.
On a personal note, my condolences to Jack Lattanzio’s family. Sag Harbor lost not only a talented athlete but a really good guy. Many, many, years ago, Jack and I were at the Sag Harbor Golf Club when the subject came up about who could run the fastest. Much to my chagrin, someone suggested we have a race to find out. The thought of a race was bad enough, but it got really bad when it was decided that the race was to be from the golf club to the flagpole at the end of Main Street. I honestly can’t remember who won, which probably means that it was Jack. He will surely be missed.