Van Rooyen returns to the Masters with memories of his late friend fresh in his mind

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Erik van Rooyen strolled beneath the Georgia pines on Monday, those familiar yellow flags of Augusta National flapping in the warm spring breeze, and let his thoughts drift from preparing for the Masters to his old college teammate.

It was the first time van Rooyen had been on the grounds since Jon Trasamar, who had welcomed him from South Africa to the University of Minnesota and quickly became his best friend, died last year after a battle with cancer.

“He's on my mind every day," van Rooyen said, “no doubt about that.”

The two had met in 2009 and remained close, even as van Rooyen became a PGA Tour winner and Trasamar toiled away on the mini-tours. In 2022, Trasamar was treated for melanoma, and for a while it looked as if he would be OK. But a return checkup a few months later found that the cancer had not only returned but was rapidly spreading.

Van Rooyen, who had struggled after his first win in 2021, arrived at the World Wide Technology Championship last November in danger of losing his PGA Tour card. But on Tuesday of that week, van Rooyen received a text from Trasamar telling him doctors had given him just weeks to live, and that put everything in perspective.

Van Rooyen managed to harness his emotions the rest of the week, and he played the last nine holes in 8 under for a victory that he dedicated to his dear friend.

Trasamar died on Nov. 11, 2023, at the age of 33.

“The biggest thing that taught me was how precious our time is here, and how privileged I am to be able to play a tournament like this,” van Rooyen said. “That was his dream as well, and obviously he wasn’t able to fulfill that. That’s always motivation."


Those on the grounds of Augusta National on Monday got a pretty good show of the solar eclipse.

Even though Georgia was not in the path of totality, the sun shined brightly and there was nary a cloud in the sky, making for ideal conditions for players and patrons alike to watch the course get cast in a dusk-like light.

“This is timing up pretty good,” said British Open champion Brian Harman, who was playing the back nine of his practice round during the height of the eclipse. “Get to watch the end of the world at Augusta National.”

Tournament organizers were prepared for the total eclipse, which won't happen again in the U.S. until 2044, handing out special sunglasses that patrons could wear to safely watch. The shades even carried the Masters logo, making for a unique souvenir.

“I was talking to my daughter and you can make one out of a cereal box," said Luke List, who practiced early and was planning to watch the eclipse elsewhere with his family. "So she’ll probably use that over the cool Masters glasses.”


Fifteen years ago, when Matthieu Pavon's mother came to Augusta National, she secretly buried a coin behind the grandstand of the old driving range. It was meant to serve as a good-luck charm — an offering of sorts to the golfing gods — that her son would one day grow up to play in the Masters.

After winning the Farmers Insurance Open last month, which earned Pavon an invitation, that dream will be realized.

“It will be pretty impossible to find that coin again, but it doesn’t matter,” said the 31-year-old Pavon, the first Frenchman to win a PGA Tour event since World War II, adding Monday that he has no plans to go digging for buried treasure. “I think it’s part of the story, and it’s only better that that coin maybe stays here forever.”

Pavon has a 2-year-old son now and he spent time thinking about that story coming full circle.

“I’m going to get a coin myself, bury it somewhere for maybe wishing that my son one day will come as a player over here,” he said. “I don’t know if he wants to play golf. It doesn’t matter. But maybe I wish that. It would be fun if in the next 20, 30 years my son gets here as a player. That would be an awesome story.”


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