Nate Lashley finds golf success after personal tragedy (N&O)

Nate Lashley finds golf success after personal tragedy

Original Article by Chip Alexander

RALEIGH A lot of things are going right for Nate Lashley on the golf course this year.

Lashley, 34, has won on the Tour for the first time. He came to the Rex Hospital Open this week as the second-leading money winner on the tour, well-positioned to fulfill a career goal and play on the PGA Tour next year.

Life is good for Lashley.

But never easy. Not since May 2004 and an unimaginable tragedy.

Lashley, then 21, was a junior at Arizona and had just competed in an NCAA regional in Sunriver, Ore. His parents and girlfriend had flown in from Nebraska to watch and support him, then headed back home to Scottsbluff, Neb., as Lashley returned to Tucson, Ariz., with the team.

When Lashley didn’t hear from them, he began to worry. He then learned his parents, Rod and Charlene, and girlfriend Leslie Hofmeister had perished in a plane crash near Gannett Peak in Wyoming. Rod Lashley was piloting the private plane and investigators would determine snowy weather caused the crash near Lander, Wyo.

Lashley’s life took a sudden turn because of their deaths, leaving him to to grieve their loss and to reconsider the importance of a sport that meant so much to him.

“It was extremely traumatic,” Lashley said Wednesday at TPC Wakefield Plantation. “It was really difficult for a long time in just about everything on a day-to-day, life basis. And on the golf course, I was always feeling like something was going to go wrong.

“At the same time there were a lot of emotions. Angry and sad and just ups and downs, really, for a long time.”

Asked what helped ease the pain, Lashley said, “Just time, more than anything. There’s really not a whole lot you can do.

“Just time. And trying to survive.”

It helped playing golf but it wasn’t always a refuge from his grief. Nor did Lashley leave Arizona and quickly establish himself in professional golf.

Lashley was on the Tour in 2006 but struggled. He then played the mini-tours, playing in relative obscurity, working on his game. He won some state events. Time passed.

“It was just relaxing on the golf course and letting yourself play,” he said. “Just getting up and hitting a shot and not worrying about anything else.”

A year ago, Lashley made the most of a stretch of good tournaments on PGA Tour Latinoamerica, winning three times and claiming the Order of Merit title. That was a big step.

Fully exempt on the Tour for 2017, Lashley put together some of the best golf of his career in winning the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. He finished at 20-under 268 to hold off Augusto Nunez and win by a shot.

The check of $112,500 boosted Lashley to second on the tour money list, and with $167,913 he could finish among the top 25 money winners this year and gain PGA Tour status for 2017-18.

Lashley had a 2-under 69 Thursday in the first round of the Rex.

“I think overall I’ve become a better player,” he said. “And mentally is probably the biggest factor.”

Lashley’s Tour bio lists several personal preferences – his favorite movie, favorite cities to visit. There’s also a personal motto: “Live life as if it were your last day.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip

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