Christiaan Bezuidenhout has no recollection of the split-second that changed his life, which is entirely understandable given he was two-years-old at the time.
Bezuidenhout’s current year was drawing attention before golf came to a shuddering halt. He lost in a playoff at the Dubai Desert Classic, won on the Sunshine Tour and posted two top-30 finishes in illustrious company on the US PGA Tour. A berth has also been secured at Augusta National for his Masters debut, now taking place in November.
Yet nothing the South African achieves in golf – and that may well be considerable – can arrive without acknowledgement of extraordinary circumstances. When still a toddler, Bezuidenhout accompanied his parents to a meeting at a business park where childish intrigue almost proved fatal. “There was a two-litre Coke bottle standing there with rat poison in it,” he explains. “Somehow I managed to open it and took a sip.
“At the hospital they basically told my parents we got there just in time. It was a matter of minutes.”
Bezuidenhout’s nervous system was affected but primarily, and most obviously, so too his speech. He developed a stutter, which still exists though this charming 25-year-old is easily understandable. Sadly, growing up, contemporaries, as is depressingly familiar, were not always considerate to him.
“It was only midway through primary school when I started to have more awareness of the stuttering and stuff like that,” he says. “I went on to go and see various speech therapists. I was pretty much a loner growing up, most of the time I was just doing my own thing every day. A good few times people made fun of it, thought it all was funny. It wasn’t smooth sailing.”
By the age of 15, Bezuidenhout took regular medication. At the same stage, he was emerging as a supremely talented golfer. “I grew up in a golfing family and when I started to walk I loved golf. But I also liked it so much when I was younger because it is an individual sport and I was on my own most of the time. I was always a loner, practised on my own. I took myself away from people and places with people there. Golf was like an escape from my circumstances.”
Even prize givings were no-go zones. “Most of the people in South Africa knew my situation so most of the time when I won junior tournaments, I just didn’t speak. I got my trophy and left.”
There could have been an exit from competitive golf in 2014 had Bezuidenhout not turned a difficult situation firmly to his advantage. He was banned for two years after testing positive for prescribed beta blockers at the Amateur Championship. The sanction was subsequently slashed to nine months on the basis it was not performance enhancing, but the incident stung.
Bezuidenhout has not taken beta blockers since and gone, too, are some of the shackles evident even as a young adult. “Plenty of time if my cellphone rang I just didn’t answer it because I knew I was going to struggle to speak,” he says. “There were so many times that I wanted to be involved in conversations and take part in things but I couldn’t.
“After the ban, I actually just accepted it. I said: ‘This is who I am and if you don’t like it then so be it. But this is me.’ I was going to go with it. That was like a mind switch for me.
“There was quite a lot of negativity and people talking about me taking medication to get an advantage or improve my game. I was determined to show those people that I can play well without that. I took those nine months and worked really hard then came back stronger.”
Bezuidenhout can contemplate an exciting future. As part of the Ernie Els foundation for six years he struck up an alliance with the four-times major winner, which partly explains what appears to be a simple assimilation to the US PGA Tour.
“He is obviously a very successful golfer but he is a great human as well,” Bezuidenhout says of Els. “When I go to the States I normally go and spend a couple of days at his house in Florida, talk to him about stuff and ask advice.
“To have had that call from Augusta was a really big bonus and something positive. Going into this year I was 92nd in the world so the Masters wasn’t really in my mind. I was thinking about being in the top 50 by the end of the year to qualify for next year’s Masters.”
Instead, Bezuidenhout is hitting balls into a net in his Pretoria garden, watching Netflix and “making sure as best I can that I don’t lose any form”. He has earned the right to lofty ambition. “The way I’m playing now I can definitely see myself in the top 30 in the world in the next year.”
Few accomplishments in modern golf would be more endearing.