CAPE TOWN – When Christiaan “Rambo” Bezuidenhout, who sensationally won the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama in Spain on Sunday by six shots, was just a toddler a freak accident changed his life.
Aged two, he picked up a Coke bottle and took a drink. But it wasn’t Coke, it was rat poison. He nearly died as a result but the poison affected the nervous system in his body, and one of the long-term effects of this was to leave him with a pronounced stutter, and severe anxiety.
So to emerge from that background to post a maiden win on the European Tour against a world-class line-up including Spanish stars John Rahm, the current Spanish Open champion, and tournament host Sergio Garcia is one of the most heart-warming and feel-good stories in South African golf.
The now 25-year-old has worked long and hard to beat his anxiety, while his stutter is far less of a factor these days.
And, taken as a whole, there was no stutter in his golf at a treacherous Valderrama as he put together rounds of 66, 68, 69 and 71 for a brilliant 10-under-par 274 aggregate to finish six shots head of playing partner Rahm and four others.
Bezuidenhout’s reward is a cheque for 500 000 (that’s a healthy R8million and a bit) and a coveted spot in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush later this month.
How things have changed for the better, because it was an incident at the Northern Ireland links that led to one of the darkest days in his life. “I went to a psychologist when I was 14,” he explains, “and she gave me beta blockers, a medication which helps to treat anxiety. I used the medication for seven years during my amateur days.
In 2014 however, I was playing in the British Amateur at Royal Portrush when after my first round I handed my scorecard in and was told I’d been nominated for a drugs test. At that time I was using beta blockers for my stutter. I wrote the medication down on the form prior to the drugs test, making no secret of the fact I was using it.”
This would ultimately lead to a two-year ban, later reduced to nine months. “I just broke down,” Bezuidenhout remembers.
“It was awful. The worst part of it all were all the stories. A lot of nasty things came out and I was accused of being a drug cheat. I reached a very low point in my life, as I was banned from playing the only thing in the world I loved, the game of golf.”
And stronger he has certainly become, winning on South Africa’s Big Easy Tour, the Sunshine Tour and now the world stage with experienced caddie Zack Rasego - Louis Oosthuizen’s former bagman - at his side to advise him and encourage him.
The win in Spain was no surprise as two Sundays back he was tied for third at the BMW International Open in Germany, while earlier this year he was second behind fellow South African Justin Harding at the Qatar Masters. Now it’s on to the Open Championship at Royal Portrush where, happily, this courageous and talented young professional will lay a ghost to rest.
His “Ma”, Margaret confirms that her son got the nickname in pre-primary where, in spite of his anxiety, he was known as an extremely active little guy who wasn’t scared to take chances and embark on adventures.
Now, like the fictional character played by Sylvester Stallone, Bezuidenhout is using his skills in many aspects of survival and combat (with club in hand) to shoot low numbers on the golf course and win big.