The hug was deep and meaningful. Erik van Rooyen was silent as his lengthy eagle putt dropped and he pumped one fist while his caddie Alex Gaugert put both his arms in the air. A silent stare followed between player and caddie. These long-time friends didn’t need to say anything. How could they? Why would they? They already knew.
This one was for Jon.
Jon Trasamar played collegiate golf alongside van Rooyen and Gaugert at the University of Minnesota. They won the 2014 Big Ten Championship as a team, and Trasamar finished tied for third as an individual. He kept clawing away at the grind that is professional golf. Mini-tours, mostly. A caddie gig to help pay the bills. A wife, Allie – they met in 2016 and were married in 2022.
And then melanoma. Cancer. He was in remission, and then, via text on Tuesday, van Rooyen and Gaugert learned the cancer had returned and spread throughout his body. Van Rooyen, after winning his second PGA TOUR title on Sunday at the World Wide Technology Championship, admitted the terrible truth. His friend was not going to make it. He and Gaugert would fly to Minnesota on Monday to see him for, likely, one of the last times. Van Rooyen said his friend has six to 10 weeks left – maybe less.
And that’s life. Real life. He knows the best man at his wedding won’t be around much longer.
“Every shot out there today was for him,” van Rooyen said, minutes after his victory at El Cardonal at Diamante was confirmed.
Van Rooyen admitted Friday after his round he got back to his hotel room and broke down in tears. He said Saturday night a win would “mean everything” because it would secure his job for 2024 – he entered the week at No. 125 on the FedExCup Fall standings, squarely on the bubble to retain TOUR exempt status – and he could go home to see his friend.
As a 19-year-old, van Rooyen left South Africa to attend the University of Minnesota. Trasamar and his family met him at the airport – they lived about two hours away from Minneapolis – and they were college roommates for three years.
“He was like a brother to me,” van Rooyen said.
Van Rooyen gets plenty with this victory – job security and opportunities for big events and nearly $1.5 million – but winning wasn’t the emphasis, he said. He might not have cared whether he won or lost Sunday, but van Rooyen did win. In style, too.
Sunday brought high drama throughout, with four players separated by just a shot into the 72nd hole. But van Rooyen wasn’t playing for himself. He didn’t care about the birdies because he wasn’t thinking about the birdies. His friend, who he loves, was going through something that van Rooyen couldn’t believe.
Before he knew it, van Rooyen had an eagle attempt to win the whole thing. He had made six birdies already in eight holes, including mid-range efforts on Nos. 16 and 17. There was no way he was missing that eagle putt.
An incredible 8-under 28 on the back nine and a 9-under 63 Sunday in Mexico meant a two-shot victory over Matt Kuchar and Camilo Villegas. It was van Rooyen’s second TOUR title, his first coming at the 2021 Barracuda Championship.
It was a trying year, van Rooyen said. Coming into the week, he missed more cuts than he made and was 151st on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Total. He started working with instructor Sean Foley at the U.S. Open and has seen gradual improvement. The results have followed, slowly but surely; he finished tied for sixth at the Barracuda Championship in August, and he arrived in Mexico on the strength of five straight top-25s between the TOUR and DP World Tour.
Things coalesced on Sunday, with fervor.
“Listen,” Kuchar said, “the birdie-birdie-eagle finish is impressive. What was that?. … 8-under par on the final nine holes is quite an awesome finale. Hard to keep up with.
“At the end of the day you tip your hat and say that’s some awesome playing.”
It was indeed.
It was a dedicated triumph. Surround yourself, as the saying goes, only with people who are going to lift you higher.
Erik van Rooyen knew that about Jon Trasamar. No words were needed after that hug with Gaugert. They knew. It was a win for a friend.
“When I kick the bucket one day, whenever that might be, this is not what I’m going to be thinking about,” van Rooyen said. “I’m going to be thinking about the people that I love the most, and Jon Trasamar is one of those people.” – PGA Tour