TROON, Scotland — On July 15, 2015, Matthew Southgate was lying in an operating room, having been diagnosed with testicular cancer, as doctors performed surgery to remove the disease.
On July 15, 2016, the English journeyman was standing in a press tent, having just shot his second-straight 71 at Royal Troon, as reporters asked what it felt like to know he would be playing the final two rounds of this year’s Open Championship.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be here,” Southgate said. “That was a really tough test out there today.”
Southgate’s portion of the draw experienced heavy rains early and shifting, strong gusts that made the incoming holes play downwind. The 27-year-old, who won an Open qualifier by three strokes at Royal Cinque Ports to earn his spot in the field at Troon, knew exactly where he stood when reaching the last tee.
“I was very nervous on that 18th tee,” he said. “But I executed my routine just the way I wanted to do it. I had to drop down to a 3-wood, and wasn’t expecting that this week. I was hitting it as long as I’ve ever hit on that back nine. I must have been pumped on adrenaline or something. I don’t know what mom put in breakfast, but my drives were out there like 360 yards. I was really killing it.”
Southgate won the 2010 St. Andrews Links Trophy at the Old Course and enjoyed a successful amateur career. He was inspired to take up the game after seeing the late Seve Ballesteros win the Open at St. Andrews in 1984, but Southgate has struggled since turning pro six years ago. While he did qualify for the Open in 2013 at Royal Liverpool, Southgate has enjoyed few memorable finishes until this year. Following a difficult recovery from last July’s operation, Southgate tried to return to golf—initially too soon according to doctors—to prepare for European Tour Q school in the fall. He entered, playing all three stages en route to earning his car.
Struggling through his first 10 starts, Southgate broke into tears after finishing fourth in the Irish Open in May. The confidence from that finish is nothing compared to the feeling Southgate had after playing a bogey-free back nine.
“I’m chuffed with myself psychologically to be able to just pick a shot and execute it and trust that you’re going to be able to make a good swing,” Southgate said. “It’s such a tough thing to do.”
Given what Southgate has gone through, the day was even more emotional with his family and friends in attendance watching.
“I really appreciated their support,” he said. “Over the years they’ve been fantastic. I wouldn’t be here without them. So now it’s a weekend that we’ll all be out to enjoy.”
Southgate enters the final 36 holes at 500-1 to win. Not that it matters after everything he’s been through.