Christiaan Bezuidenhout has experienced his fair share of adversity, but he’s now on the path to fulfilling his great potential
Christiaan Bezuidenhout Exclusive: “It Felt Like My Life Was Over”
When a fresh, new face wins on tour, it’s easy to assume that player’s fate was never in doubt – just another story of potential fulfilled.
This isn’t always the case, though.
For Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who won his maiden European Tour title at the Andalucia Masters in June, life has followed a different path – and it’s been anything but plain sailing.
In actual fact, the South African is lucky to be alive.
Aged two, when playing in the street, he took a sip from a random bottle believing it was Coca-Cola.
In that split second, his life changed forever. The bottle contained rat poison.
It was a freak accident that impacts the 25-year-old to this very day.
His whole nervous system was affected and one of the long-term effects led to him having a stutter.
Later, he developed severe anxiety.
How impressive, then, that this very likeable young man has not only learned to cope with his mental health issues and the anxiety that surrounds his stutter, but that he’s also fulfilled his dream of becoming a professional golfer.
It’s only half the story, too.
In 2014, he received a two-year ban for testing positive for beta-blockers, which he was using to treat his anxiety – medication he had never made a secret of taking.
Even though it was later reduced to nine months after a hearing determined he had not used drugs for performance-enhancing benefits, Bezuidenhout was left in pieces.
It was a blow that would have floored most, but Bezuidenhout, despite feeling badly let down, never lost his love for the game.
Instead, he went back to work.
Not once, he says, did giving up ever cross his mind.
“I just practised and played non-stop for nine months,” he tells Golf Monthly.
“When that happens, you can go two ways. You can lie on your back for months, or you can work – and that’s what I did.
“My first tournament back was a small professional event and I won very well.
“To do that in my first tournament back was just so good.”
You get the impression this is a story he has told more than once, and that if asked to recount every shot of that tournament, he could.
As you’d expect, he’s very proud. This was a hugely significant moment in his career.
“I wanted to show people that I don’t need anything to play well,” he says.
“I felt let down by a couple of my friends back home and a few of the golfers that I grew up playing with.
“That was my way of giving it back to them. I was inconsolable at the time. It was a lot to take in and I was really hurt.”
Bezuidenhout, nicknamed ‘Rambo’ because Sylvester Stallone was his favourite actor growing up, is one very strong character himself.
He was faced with some painful memories when returning to Royal Portrush for The Open Championship.
It was here, in 2014, that he was nominated for a drugs test after the first round of the British Amateur Championship.
Two months later, his father delivered him the news of his suspension as he was practising for one of the biggest tournaments of his life, the Eisenhower Trophy.
“At the time, it felt like my life was over,” he says.
“I was broken. Going back to Portrush, though, I didn’t feel any emotion.”
That he’s now teeing it up in Major Championships is evidence of how far his career has come over the last five years.
Life, on and off the course, has changed dramatically.
His psychologist has helped him to rebuild his confidence.
Rather than withdrawing himself and shying away from conversations because of his stutter, he’s learned to work with it.
His golf has also reached a new level, as he demonstrated at the Andalucia Masters.
As the champagne bottles popped on the final green at Valderrama – quite some place to make your breakthrough – he was mobbed by friends and family… and there were tears.
Rahm, who finished a distant six shots back in second, was one of the first to congratulate his playing partner.
Bezuidenhout is still touched by some of the compliments he received that day.
One tweet in particular, from Thomas Bjorn, made quite an impact. “Watching this shy and humble guy sticking his chest out over the last few months has been brilliant. Works hard and now shows confidence without arrogance,” said the former European Ryder Cup captain.
“Everything was great,” he recalls with a smile.
“My family came down Sunday morning, my sister and my brother were there.
“We just had a couple of beers on Sunday.
“I had to play the Irish Open the following week so it was a quiet one.
“Then, for Jon and Thomas to say those things on social media and television was special.
“It was nice that people recognised my good playing over the last few months and years.”
Family aside, no one could be prouder of his accomplishments than fellow countryman Ernie Els.
Bezuidenhout grew up playing near Pretoria and Johannesburg with his father, a scratch golfer, and when his talent started to become more obvious, he joined The Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation.
He spent six years there learning from one of his idols, something he will always be grateful for.
“He [Els] has played a massive part in my golf over the years,” says Bezuidenhout, who won the 2015 Order of Merit on the Big Easy Tour, the developmental tour that feeds into the Sunshine Tour.
“He helped me a lot financially. He was always someone who I looked up to growing up and playing the game.”
Els, too, has fond memories of the time they spent together.
“I remember Christiaan joining us. He obviously had some game,” he says.
“You could see that quite quickly. To see him come of age with his Spanish win was quite a thrill for everyone associated with our Foundation, including myself.
“A lot of people know his story with us. He went through a tough spell after that suspension.
“It’s impressive the way he’s established himself as a pro.
“I remember he got a special invite to the Dunhill a few years back and he wasn’t overawed by the experience.
“It felt to me like he was building up to his win this summer.”
Further success will surely follow.
He admits that he’s “no bomber” with the driver, but, as he proved around Valderrama, he’s deadly accurate with his irons.
He’s clearly also a man for the big occasion.
At the BMW PGA Championship in September, he came third, the sixth top-ten of an incredible season on the European Tour.
He was also comfortable taking time out to talk throughout the week, too, further evidence of how far he’s come.
He’s just happy to be doing what he loves.
If that means more public speaking, so be it. As for everything that’s happened, he’s moved on.
“Everything’s done. I don’t really care about that stuff anymore.
“If my story can continue to inspire people, then that’s great.
“Even if it changes one person’s life, or perspective of life, that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s also fine as well,” he concludes.
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