NO journey in golf has been harder than Christiaan Bezuidenhout’s, no triumph more deserved.
The South African whose life changed forever when he swallowed rat poison at the age of two broke his European Tour duck in the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama.
And when Bezuidenhout’s family surprised him by rushing on to share his celebrations at the 18th hole, emotions bottled up for 23 years poured out.
Bezuidenhout, whose victory earned him a place in this month’s Open at Royal Portrush, has had a stutter and battled depression after “almost dying” when he swallowed poison he thought was coke.
The 25-year-old “withdraw myself from everything and everyone” due to anxiety.
And he was later banned from golf for nine months for taking drugs to combat his stutter – before “slowly” gaining confidence in the last few years.
So the nerves he admits took hold during a dramatic final round in southern Spain were nothing by comparison.
Leading by five shots overnight, Bezuidenhout opened with two birdies to move seven clear, but bogeyed four of the next five.
That left playing partner and home favourite Jon Rahm just three adrift.
But a birdie hat-trick from the ninth set up Bezuidenhout’s two-shot win as a par 71 took him to ten-under overall.
He said: “It’s great. I’m proud of myself for hanging in there today after a tough stretch in the middle of my round.
“I made a great save on eight which kept the momentum on my side and bounced back with three birdies in a row there and that just settled me down nicely.
“I was still nervous, it’s a difficult course and anything can happen, especially on the last three holes.
“But I’m really pleased with the way I played and to finish it off is unbelievable.”
And it completed an odyssey far greater than just his biggest win in Europe.
Bezuidenhout had his stomach pumped after a “freak accident” with rat poison from a “random coke bottle” he found in the streets while playing with friends.
He told the compleatgolfer website: “I almost died.
“The poison affected the whole nervous system, and one of the long-term effects led to me having a stutter.
“I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was four. This led to me becoming very introverted and depressed.
“Over the past four or five years it has slowly started to improve and I have felt more self-confident when speaking in front of people, but in previous years I would withdraw myself from everything and everyone.”
A psychologist helped Bezuidenhout tackle his stutter before he was shocked to be suspended following a drugs test for the British Amateur event at, ironically, Royal Portrush.
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After surviving cruel gossip from “people in the golf industry” that he was taking substances to boost his performance, Bezuidenhout’s two-year ban was cut to nine months after he showed the beta-blockers were purely for his stutter.
He won his first event on his return in south Africa by seven shots.
Now his two years of hard graft on the European Tour have been rewarded by an even greater landmark in his incredible career and even more remarkable life.