Sulman Raza Delivers Hollywood Ending-
by Randal Whipple
A second storybook ending played out the 10th green of the Eugene Country Club moments after the Oregon men clinched their first ever NCAA National Championship. Hometown hero Sulman Raza paused to take a photograph with ten-year-old Gavin Henrikson, grandson of Randal Whipple. While doing so, Raza reached into his pocket and presented the winning golf ball to young Gavin. Raza had no idea just how much the gift meant to the boy.
On Memorial Day weekend–two years ago–Gavin suffered a severe injury when a heavy log crushed his leg while vacationing with his family on the Oregon coast. The injury nearly cost Gavin his leg. Gavin’s made great progress following three surgeries and physical therapy, but his recovery has been painfully slow.
Gavin had tired while walking over the eighteen-hole course with his grandfather. Sudden death meant there would still be a lot more ground to cover. Eventually, the pair found a strategic spot alongside a bunker on the 10th green where Raza would attempt his decisive putt on the third playoff hole. They were about thirty feet away when the ball dropped and the crowd exploded.
Raza lingered on the 10th green not far from where he had sunk the championship winning birdie putt. The right moment presented itself and Gavin asked Raza if he could have his picture taken with him.
Raza–now wearing his new national champion tee shirt and hat—placed his arm on Gavin’s shoulder and broadly smiled for the photograph. He then reached into his pocket, pulling out the Titleist golf ball he’d just used to win the championship, and gifted it to Gavin. Gavin said it was “just like winning the lottery.”
Whipple had a sense that Raza may have made a decision he’d later regret and asked him three different times if he really wanted to part with such a personal treasure. Each time, the new champion insisted that he wanted Gavin to have the winning ball.
The Titleist golf ball bears a smiling Oregon Duck logo, and a blue line hand-marked by Raza to line up his putts. It now also bears the new champion’s autograph. It’s a keepsake and memory young golfer Gavin and his grandfather will always treasure.