Erik Van Rooyen's perspective carries him to his 2nd PGA Tour win
08 Nov,2023 Credit : Getty Images

By Tim Liotta


Erik Van Rooyen's perspective carries him to his 2nd PGA Tour win

The arc of Erik Van Rooyen's golf career took a hit a few years back from which he has finally recovered. Now, he faces a recovery far more personal. 

Van Rooyen electrified the golf world with an 8-under-par back nine on a Sunday in a PGA Tour event that he capped with an eagle putt on the final hole that gave him a two-shot victory for his second Tour title. 

"I remember on hole eight telling (caddy) Alex (Gauget), I was in the right-hand side of the fairway and I looked at him, I was like, you know, I really want to win this tournament," Van Rooyen said after completing 72 holes at the World Wide Technologies Championship in 27-under-par. "But it's so hard to push. 

"Sometimes when you push too hard in the wrong moments it goes the other way. 

"Funny enough, we had the conversation, he told me just stay the course, just stay the course, hit the shot we were looking, be super clear with your intention, and then I sprayed right of the green. So it's funny how that works."

Van Rooyen has been pushing through a dip in performance that had seen him fall from No. 40 in the Official World Golf Rankings in June, 2020, all the way down to No. 235 in August. His downward spiral accelerated in April, and reached a point where he missed nine cuts in 10 tournaments this spring and summer. 

"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," Van Rooyen said. 

"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."

Trasamar was Van Rooyen's teammate, roommate and best friend while they competed together on the University of Minnesota golf team for four years beginning in 2009. 

"Jon was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma about a year ago, maybe a bit more, sort of end of summer last year," said Van Rooyen. "He was clean in April, obviously Heritage in Harbour Town when he gave me the call and he sent me a picture of the scan and he was free of cancer. So obviously that was an incredible moment for all of us.

"Not soon after it came back. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. On Tuesday he sent us a text, he's got six to 10 weeks left. They did a bunch of scans and cancer was in all his

organs, everywhere. I don't think he's got that much time left. We're flying up to Minnesota tomorrow to go see him."

Van Rooyen arrived in America in 2009, coming from Oudtshoorn, South Africa, a town five hours east of Cape Town known for its Ostrich farms and for having the most sunny days in the country. He had distinguished him through a local amateur career that saw him awarded South African Provincial and National Colors, earning him a scholarship to play golf for the Golden Gophers. 

Trasamar arrived in Minneapolis a three-time All-Conference, three-time All State and three-time section champion from Blue Earth, MN, population little more than 3,000. 

"As a 19-year-old, when you leave your home country, it's never easy, and I left South Africa back in 2009," Van Rooyen said. "I grew up in a really small town. The golf course was not great. So leaving home wasn't easy. 

"Jon and his family lived about two hours away from Minneapolis. I arrived in Minnesota in September of 2009 and they were there at the airport to meet me, to say hi, because he was going to be my roommate and teammate soon after."

"We obviously became best friends. So we were roommates for three out of the four years I was in college. I still think he's got one of the best short games I've ever seen. He pursued a career in golf up until recently obviously. He's really like a brother to me."

After four years as a top player for the Golden Gophers, where he won the Minnesota State Amateur in his junior year, Van Rooyen set out on the road of professional golf. It took almost six years, three tours, with wins on each, before Van Rooyen reached the PGA Tour.

"I graduated in 2013, I went home to South Africa, started on the Sunshine Tour," Van Rooyen said. "In 2017 played Challenge Tour, then 2018, European Tour. So I certainly wasn't the Rory McIlroys of the world where you're winning majors in your early 20s.

"But I've slowly been building my career and taking steps towards fulfilling my own potential. 

"I think certainly -- I started playing PGA TOUR like midway through 2019. I think I played a few events in top-50 in the world ranking and playing some majors and I think I certainly -- it

was certainly a sense to me when I got my card that I kind of have to prove myself. 

"That's tough pressure to live with and play with because the best players in the world are playing on the PGA TOUR, you know.

"I've kind of come to peace with that. I'm playing fantastic golf again. I know the caliber of golf I can play, so getting this win is very sweet."

Along the way Van Rooyen proved he has the ability to post results at the major-championship level. He finished T17 and T20 in back-to-back Open Championships (2018-19), and sandwiched in between his first major championship top-10 when he posted rounds of 70-68-70-73 and finished T8 at the 2019 PGA Championship over a difficult Bethpage Black course. 

"I think in 2020 at some point I was 40th in the world, so I think that was my best ranking to date. Then injuries happened and life happens and things go south," he said. 

"It's such a funny game because when things don't go your way, you can kind of find yourself in a hole and you're like, you feel like I'm never going to play well again. Then when you play well, you feel like you're never going to play poor again. 

"Just trying to stay level headed and riding the wave and knowing that regardless of what happened today, next week there's another tournament to compete in. Just trying to get a little bit better every day and chip away at this game called golf. 

"I know I'm good enough to do what I did today. You know, things like this happened."

During the tough stretch of results this summer, Van Rooyen turned to swing coach Sean Foley. And he was quick to point out Foley's contribution when asked about it in the post-victory news conference. 


"I wasn't hitting it that bad when I started working with him, but I wasn't getting great results. I was missing cuts. I think at one point I missed 10 cuts in a row (actually nine out of 10). 

"So I think what makes Sean so great is, yeah, he's got this awesome knowledge about the golf swing and the human body and how the body functions and how to get the club square on the ball, but just perspective.

"When we talk, sometimes it's an hour and we don't even talk about golf. We talk about life and the person you want to be, how you want to be on the golf course, not being an idiot out there and being the person off the course and being the same person on the golf course. That's really the conversations we've had."

So, when the winning putt had been made, after several long embraces with Gaugert, and it came time for Van Rooyen to face a camera, NBC's George Savaricas asked him, "How were you able to be so calm when the stakes were the highest?"

Van Rooyen paused, wiped his face, with tears welling up, he said, "Sorry. I was calm because there's bigger stuff in life than golf.

"If you look at my ball, we've got a little music note — it's a little faded now — little music notes on there, and initials J.T., and that's for Jon Trasamar, my best friend," van Rooyen said. "He's got melanoma and he's not going to make it.

"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. And at the end of the day whether I won here or lost here didn't really matter. When something motivates you like that, whether you make a putt or miss a putt, who cares?"

Later, Van Rooyen added, ""I hope he's watching. We've texted. I've just told him how much I love him and how much I miss him. All I want is to go play nine holes with him somewhere, you know. And extremely selfishly, that puts all of this into perspective."