Nate Lashley wasn't even supposed to tee it up in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The 36-year-old Nebraska native failed to secure his place in the field in the Monday qualifier, but he stuck around the Detroit area knowing he was the third alternate. When David Berganio Jr. became the third player to withdraw from the inaugural event, Lashley got his chance, becoming the 156th and final player in the field.
He did not waste his oppportunity.
Lashley took the tournament by the throat with opening rounds of 63-67-63 at Detroit Golf Club—his 23-under total after three days was good for a six shot lead—then coasted to a closing 70 and a six-shot victory.
"Just really emotional right now. Just really thankful I got into the golf tournament," Lashley said.
Lashley becomes the first player to win a tournament as an alternate since 2016, when Vaughn Taylor did it at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and will take home $1.3 million for his first PGA Tour victory.
The life-changing win comes 15 years after Lashley experienced an unthinkable tragedy.
In 2004, while he was a junior at Arizona, Lashley's parents and girlfriend flew their own plane from Nebraska to Oregon to watch him compete in the NCAA regional tournament. They never returned to Nebraska. On their flight home, the plane confronted a nasty weather patch and went down in Wyoming. All three were killed.
“It was just shock,” Lashley told ESPN in a 2017 article detailing his journey. “Shock and disbelief. It was a really tough time, especially that week with the funerals and the memorial service. I was just kind of out of it.”
Lashley turned professional in 2005 but failed to find his footing and consistent income, so much so that he briefly quit the game in 2012 and began selling homes. He returned to golf after only a few months—"I realized that golf was a lot easier than a regular job," he told ESPN—and was the leading moneywinner on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica in 2015, earning promotion to the then–Web.com Tour. A victory on that circuit helpe him earn a PGA Tour card for the 2017-18 season, but made just eight of 17 cuts and lost his full status. He began this wraparound season on a medical exemption but failed to earn enough money to re-gain full status, which is why he was still playing Monday qualifiers.
Not anymore. With the win, Lashley earns a two-year PGA Tour exemption and a spot into next year's Masters. Given what he has overcome, it's hard to imagine a more deserving person.
“I couldn’t be more happy right now,” Lashley said.
Lashley wasn't the only player to have a life-changing week.
Doc Redman, the 2017 U.S. Amateur champion, holed a four-footer for par on the last to insure a solo second-place finish, which grants him special temporary membership on the PGA Tour and a spot in next month's British Open at Royal Portrush. Redman shot 62 at the Monday qualifier to play his way into the event, which marked the first time the PGA Tour has ever hosted a tournament within the Detroit city limits and the first event in Michigan since 2009.
The tournament was plagued by a lack of star power—only three of the world's top 20 players entered, and the highest-ranked player in the field, world No. 2 Dustin Johnson, missed the cut—but was buoyed by tremendous fan support and an entertaining birdie-fest all week. The 36-hole cut was five under and 45 players finished the week at 10 under or better.