Victories are often made more meaningful by the losses that precede them.
It’s a lesson University of Charleston golfer and former Poca High School standout David Scragg learned this past week, among many others — lessons about the fragility of life, the importance of family, as well as himself.
Indeed, it was quite a range of emotions on Tuesday at Berry Hills Country Club when he found out his final round of 2-under-par 68 was good enough to claim a one-shot win in the University of Charleston Invitational over Gannon’s Conner Bennink. UC won the team title, with teammate Mitch Hoffman finishing third at 1 over and 2020 West Virginia Amateur champion, Alex Easthom of West Liberty, coming in fourth at 2 over.
It was the second win of Scragg’s college career, but will likely always be the first victory that comes to his mind.
Scragg’s grandfather Raymond Coleman passed away on Aug. 31 at the age of 85. One week later, his oldest brother, Michael Barker, succumbed to cancer at the age of 41. Yet another week later, he was back in the winner’s circle.
Joy, grief and genuine surprise crashed down at once, and somewhere on the grounds of Berry Hills, away from the crowd of teammates, coaches and competitors that had just come to congratulate him, in the deafening silence that echoes down the fairways of a golf course, Scragg broke down.
“I tried not to think about it and not to show it and I think I did an OK job, but I went around and everybody gave me hugs and congratulated me and then I walked off for about five minutes and cried like a baby,” Scragg said. “I just didn’t think I could [win].”
Yet it’s exactly what his oldest brother had asked of him in what would be one of the last times the two would talk. UC played in a tournament at California (Pa.) Sept. 5-7, one the Golden Eagles ended up winning. Before he left for the tournament, Scragg stopped in to speak to his brother, who at the time was in good spirits. By the time he got back it was nearly too late.
“He really didn’t seem like he was in bad shape — he looked good, sounded good and the doctor said we had a little more time than we ended up having,” Scragg said. “So, I talked to him and right before I left he told me, ‘Go win one for me.’ That ended up being one of the last things he said to me.
“By the time we got back two or three days later, around 9:30 or 10 is when my mom called and said, ‘If you want to go see your brother, go do it now.’ By the time I got there, he was trying to speak but you couldn’t make a lot out of it. I was able to tell him I loved him and he told me he loved me too.”
Understandably, in the days that immediately followed, golf was the furthest thing from Scragg’s mind as he dealt with the weight of a situation that included two personal tragedies in a week’s time.
“When my grandfather passed ... I was pretty close with him and that hurt a lot to not really have the time to grieve and mourn before my brother passed away,” Scragg explained. “You almost go from overwhelmed — you just lost your grandfather and your focus turns to, ‘Oh my God, my oldest brother just died.’ It was tough enough to lose one loved one, but to lose two at the same time ... it was really tough.”
He didn’t practice for this week’s Invitational in the days before, but in honoring what he believed both his brother and grandfather would have wanted, he decided to play in the tournament. A cerebral player whose strength has always come in his short game and putting, Scragg’s ball striking — which had been lacking — suddenly came around during his opening-round even-par 70, a round that put him squarely in the mix.
“I definitely didn’t expect to play well,” Scragg said. “I had been swinging it not so well, had been putting pretty well, but at Berry you’ve got to hit greens to be able to play well and I had been searching for something. Halfway through the round I made a bunch of pars and I just had a swing thought, a swing key that was working and it ended up getting me through both days.”
Perhaps the most difficult part of the two days was keeping his focus, something as paramount if not more so in golf than any sport.
“For the most part I was able to block it out,” he said. “Definitely a couple of times waiting on a tee box or waiting in a fairway for a green to clear or standing over a ball reading your putt and waiting for the guy that’s further away to go first, your mind kind of drifts and it wanders and it crosses your mind. I caught myself having to snap myself back into it and I did pretty well. But I won’t act like it didn’t cross my mind at all because it does, and it has every day since.”
As he came down the stretch, Scragg said he had no idea where he was on the leaderboard and, in retrospect, realized he holed crucial, pressure putts along the way without knowing how important they were. Yet all of it was just enough to pull off what he didn’t think was possible, and though it was a few days too late to fulfill his brother’s request before he died, Scragg takes solace in believing that somewhere, Michael Barker saw his younger brother’s victory.
“It did feel like something special had happened,” he admitted. “Because I genuinely didn’t think I could pull it off, I really didn’t. It wasn’t even like a, ‘Hey, maybe I could go out and get it done.’ I didn’t think I had a chance. It was just kind of cool to be able to go out and do it and I would’ve liked to have done it while he were still here to see it, but I have to believe that he knows.”
Now a graduate student, Scragg, who took advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility following last year’s COVID-19 college sports shutdown, has more golf to play. At age 23, he also has plenty of life to live and that life will undoubtedly be forever affected by the happenings of the past few weeks.
But there is some good in that as well. Already verbalizing a perspective beyond his years, Scragg explained that he is no longer questioning why and instead will move on looking only to make good on devoting time to those around him that are still here.
“I don’t necessarily know that I’ll ever understand and I think I’m at the point now where I’m going to stop trying,” Scragg said. “But I’m definitely going to focus on spending more time with my family and the people I care about. I regret not being able to spend more time with my brother, you just never expect something like that to happen. I’m going to focus on spending more time with the people I care about and not taking any of that for granted.”