Steven Bowditch finally won his first PGA Tour tournament on his 110th attempt, the Valero Texas Open at the TPC of San Antonio in Texas. He shot a final round 76 and finished at 8-under, one shot ahead of Will MacKenzie and Daniel Summerhays.
It was quite a feat because the winds were blowing 10 to 25 with higher gusts. He said later that it was a good thing for him because he grew up in those winds in Australia, now plays in them where he lives in Dallas and it meant that it would be difficult for his chasers to close on him.
As it turned out, he was half right. He lost his opening 3-shot lead in four holes with a bogey and a double. He wouldn’t know until the last putt on 18, but nobody was able to close on him. It was his putter than was causing him problems:
My putter has been not very good at all this week in general, so it’s always tough to‑‑ you gotta chip it really close, you know, even‑‑ you saw on the last hole there, I had a 3‑footer and it just touched the hole.
Because of that, he was bundle of nerves coming down the home stretch. And it didn’t help that he couldn’t keep his mind on what he was trying to do, it kept going to the future. He tried by remembering his past successes…which is just the mind drifting in the other direction:
I guess I look back on what I’ve done in the past with smaller tournaments and in Australia and Nationwide and Web.com events and I use those experiences to try and stay in the moment as best I could.
And every time I got out of check, you know, looking ahead to the Masters, and winning golf events and making my speeches before, you know, before it’s finished. I had to really pull myself in check every time, and it happened a lot today.
But the thing that was most heroic about his victory Sunday was that he was finally able to overcome — if only for a while — his history of severe clinical depression. He was asked how he was able to do that:
I don’t think I’ll ever overcome it. You just deal with it on a day‑to‑day basis and learn, learn about yourself and move on forward.
In practical terms on Sunday, perhaps his daily grappling with depression helped him because it served to train him in how to deal with the negatives in life. He was playing so inconsistently, he was out in the desert in the rocks and the cactus frequently, but he just dealt with it by coming to expect it.
I was actually able to stay pretty positive, to be honest. You know, when you’re — I guess after a period of time, out there, the way I was playing, I kind of just accepted the fact that I’m going to be playing in cactus, moving rocks, missing putts and had to deal with it every time. So it was nothing really, it happened so frequently that it never really surprised me, and I could just keep doing what I was doing.
To truly understand what Bowditch overcame, I highly recommend this 2009 profile in Golf Digest by Jim Moriarty, “Behind Closed Doors,” that I have linked to before. Bowditch was once the next Greg Norman in Australia, actually playing head-to-head with his hero in a tournament and gaining a respectful ride home in Norman’s jet. But the disease soon sucked him into a hole so deep, he attempted suicide in 2006.
What makes this story so compelling is that Bowditch tells much of the story in his own words. He explains just how debilitating depression is and describes how it even affected his ability to think straight, how it isolated him from his world. It is as fascinating as it is heartbreaking.
Seen in that light, that slowly evolving victory is probably more heroic than this one that he fashioned on Sunday.