2005: For Lashley, a never-ending fight
As Nathan Lashley stood in the fairway at Arizona National Golf Club’s par-5 18th hole, he looked to his right and saw his older sister Brooke. She had driven from Phoenix, where she lives and works as a dental hygienist, to watch her brother play in the first two rounds of the Ping/Arizona Intercollegiate.
Her presence brought Lashley a special peace. It was important because family means so much to the Arizona Wildcats senior.
Still, there was a huge void, one Lashley encounters every day, especially when he is on the golf course.
Missing were his parents, Rod and Charlene Lashley. And their absence will forever haunt Nathan and Brooke.
Rod, 49, Charlene, 46, and Nate’s girlfriend, Leslie Hofmeister, were killed in an airplane crash last May as they were returning to their home in Mitchell, Neb., following the NCAA West Regional in Sunriver, Ore.
Rod’s four-passenger plane, which he was piloting, encountered a late spring storm and crashed near 13,780-foot Gannet Peak outside Jackson, Wyo. Their bodies were found 12 days later in more than 4 feet of snow.
The trio had just watched Lashley sink a 35-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 3-under-par back nine that helped lead Arizona to a third-place finish and a trip to the NCAA finals.
While his teammates competed in the NCAA Championship at
The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va. – where the Wildcats finished third, playing with heavy hearts for their teammate – Lashley was attending funeral services in Nebraska.
Nine months later, Lashley struggles daily as he tries to cope with the tragedy.
“How do you handle something like that? I don’t think there’s a manual for that,” said Arizona coach Rick LaRose. “What he’s gone through, what he will continue to go through, it’s just so tough. But Nate is a tough young man and I’d say he’s handling it as well as anyone could expect in this situation.”
It was, as Lashley put it, “an awakening experience,” and, as expected, the tragedy changed his life as well as his outlook. He’s had to grow up a lot faster than most 22-year-olds still in school.
“Obviously there’s been a number of adjustments and changes I’ve had to make,” said the 6-foot-1, 180-pound physical education major. “It’s really hard to explain. There’s a lot of things my parents did for me that now I have to do myself. There’s just so much more to deal with.”
No one would have faulted Lashley if he decided not to return to Arizona for his final year. For him, however, that was not an option.
“I never thought about quitting school,” Lashley said. “That’s not what my parents would have wanted. It’s my senior year and I wanted to come back and finish. I want to be a team leader and play well and do whatever I can to help our team.”
Being part of a team has helped the healing process. After a round he’ll gather with teammates and coaches, laugh and share in stories of the day. Doing that after the Ping/Arizona event, eating his box lunch with the rest of the Wildcats, he was just one of the guys.
“Nate means a lot to the team and all of us look up to him,” said Arizona sophomore Henry Liaw. “I think he’s showed he is not a quitter. He’s been really positive, and that has rubbed off on the rest of us. We try to be by his side as much as possible, but we all know it’s been a big struggle for him.”
Playing golf and competing at a high level has been good therapy. And while he has a different perspective on the course – realizing that a missed putt or a bad tee shot is not cause for a meltdown – he continues to strive for excellence with his game.
“I still want to play well,” Lashley said. “I still get upset when I don’t, but I also know that there are a lot more important things than golf. Life is very precious and can end at any time so you have to make the most of it. I’m still very serious about my golf, and right now I really need to win a tournament. I haven’t won yet (in college) and that would be a big step for me.”
Lashley has improved his scoring average each season, going from a 75.94 average as a freshman, to 74.83 as a sophomore and 73.06 as a junior. Last year he had two top 20s and 31 of his 36 rounds counted for the team.
He placed a career-best seventh last fall at the Tucker Invitational in New Mexico and opened the spring season last week with a tie for 25th at the Ping/Arizona.
“My fall season was kind of up and down, especially emotionally,” said Lashley, fighting back tears. “My parents attended a lot of my tournaments so it’s been really tough looking out and not seeing them there. At times it’s really been tough, but I just try to fight through it and go with the punches.”
Last May, Lashley received what for many would have been a knockout blow.
He could have stayed on the canvas, waited for a 10-count, then slipped off and left it all behind. Instead, he picked himself up and came out fighting.
The punch still stings, still hurts. It always will.
But because of the way Nathan Lashley’s parents raised him, he won’t give up the fight.