Matthew Southgate, a man who was diagnosed with testicular cancer, who joined the fight for his niece battling Leukemia, a man who never gave up in the face of adversity, is about to play against his hero.
Southgate found out he had cancer in 2015 and returned to competitive golf only a year later, finishing Q-School and finishing fourth behind Rory McIlroy at the 2016 Irish Open.
As he continues his journey on the European Tour, he reminisced on Facebook about a moment in 2002 when he met Tiger Woods, a moment that inspired him to pursue his childhood dreams of becoming a professional golfer. Playing in the same field as Woods this week in Dubai led to some validation of his own, and his words are moving.
“In 2002 the Open Championship was held at Muirfield and as always I packed the tent and went to Scotland to spectate the whole week from start to finish. It was mid-morning on the Tuesday and I heard a conversation from inside the ropes that Tiger was going to play at 6am the following day to miss the hustle and bustle of the masses trying to get a glimpse of the world number one.
“I told dad my inside info but he shrugged it off as a rumour. On and on I went throughout the afternoon and into the evening. I set my alarm for 5am and it was one of those early mornings where you are so excited you don’t have to rub your eyes, they just ping open and you know the day could be amazing!
“I jostled dad about in his bed and forced him to wake up. “Come on, dad, it’s Tiger, it’s Tiger,” I said. He got up and off we set. We arrived at Muirfield and there was not a soul in sight.
“We made our way up the entrance road to the club and then we heard a car. A 4X4 with blacked out windows rolled past us and pulled into the greenskeepers’ shed no more than 100 yards in front of us.
“Dad got a trot on and I dashed behind. The car pulled into a space and stopped, there we both stood, hearts fluttering in our chests at what could be something very special. The front left door opened and out stepped American journeyman pro John Cook. The back left door then opened and out hopped Stevie Williams (Tiger’s caddie).
“Then time seemed to almost come to a standstill. It was as if my little life had gone into slow motion and the right back door began to open.
“Two feet plonked onto the floor with Nike swoosh down the side on the right-hand side as I looked. A hand past itself out to the door handle, it was a hand that I knew. It was a hand that I had seen wave to a million fans, a hand that had picked out a hundred incredible putts.
“It was a hand that had held pretty much any golf trophy worth winning. It was, of course, the hand of Tiger Woods.
“He was just right there and strike me down if I’m lying, the only people that were anywhere near the guy was me and my dad. My rumour was true and I think my little face in this picture sums up how lucky that made me feel that morning!”
“Fifteen years later here I am, sat in the Grand Millennium Hotel in Dubai in preparation for that special chance us golfers all dreamt of, the week I get to go toe-to-toe with the Tiger!”
“I don’t care what happens this week I am going to look smart, conduct myself in the finest golfing manner I know, play with my special orange wrist band on to help keep life in perspective and enjoy reminding myself that somewhere out there on the course is a certain Mr Woods and we are both doing our jobs in the same office this week, that will make me smile and you know what?
“If there is something in your heart you feel you want from your life, just take a look in that mirror, stand up tall, shoulders back and remember ‘’you get one crack at this life, if something is worth fighting for you, go get it for no one else but yourself! This world is not about about how hard you can hit, its about how hard you can get hit but keep moving forwards.”
While Tiger Woods may have had some issues of his own, his golf career has inspired many of the pros on Tour now, clearly making a positive impact on the game. The determination and success of Tiger is a representation of how golf changes lives, including the life of Matthew Southgate.
While cancer may have slowed him down, his perseverance is not something that can be pushed aside. He praises Tiger Woods but it’s his own story that will inspire others and possibly a future pro like himself.
This week, Southgate will play alongside Tiger Woods, teaching us to aspire to not only idolize your heroes but to have the motivation to one day stand beside them.