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"He was a lot further along than a lot of freshmen," says Lobos coach Glen Millican. While his first year in Albuquerque was one of adjustment, he made some noise on the course. He shot a 66 in his second tournament, tying for second, and finished 10th at that season's Mountain West Conference championships.
Just before Christmas of his sophomore year, Madalitso had a three-way phone conversation with Peter and Wongani, who was attending the University of Notre Dame in Australia. Peter was in the hospital with pneumonia. "He was kind of struggling with his breathing," Madalitso says. "He said, 'They asked me to spend the night here, but I'll be back to work on Monday.'" Three days later he was dead at 52.
Both Muthiya boys were far from home, adjusting to new lives. If there ever was a time they would abandon their ambitions, this was it. Neither quit. Wongani, now 25, took two jobs to continue his education. (He earned degrees in marketing and electronic commerce.) Blessed with strong support from his team, and from the Roths--Jayme and his parents, Claude and Janet, had all but adopted him--Madalitso returned to school.
The resilience came from their dad. Says Wongani, "He used to tell us that the world was a jungle full of lions and snakes, and that to survive we had to get our education."
The loss of his father sent Madalitso's game south. "I was fragile emotionally," he says. Still, he pulled off top 10 finishes at the National Invitational and the conference championships. The summer after his junior season he made it to the round of 32 in the U.S. Public Links and the U.S. Amateur--the latter played at a more benign Winged Foot than the one he saw last week.
After graduating in the fall of 2005 with a degree in economics, Muthiya turned pro. At February's qualifying school for the Canadian tour he birdied four of the last six holes to earn his card. (He has made $892 in two starts so far.) Back home he came in second at the Zambian Open. He Monday-qualified for the Nationwide tour's Gila River Classic and made the cut. Once Muthiya set his sights on the U.S. Open, the fits and starts that had plagued his game since Peter's death came to an abrupt end. He laid waste to the field at his local qualifier, shooting a 63 at Albuquerque's Twin Warriors course.
The competition was more formidable at his sectional qualifier, held at the Double Eagle Golf Club in Galena, Ohio. The field of 37 included Bill Haas, son of Tour pro Jay, and Matt Weibring, son of Champions tour pro D.A. Muthiya shot a 65 in the morning and a 69 in the afternoon. No one came within four strokes of him.
Wongani got the good news in a text message at 3 a.m. Lusaka time. "I started jumping up and down," he says. Not knowing what else to do, he took a shower and went to work ... at 4 a.m. "The security guards thought I was crazy, but I was simply overjoyed," he says. "It felt as if all the struggles we'd gone through were worth it." In a hotel room outside Columbus, Madalitso was telling his sometime caddie, Carleton Hasbrook, "This is my time."
It was his time--to see how much more work he has to do. Armed with a new set of Cleveland irons, acquired by the help of fellow Lobo Tommy Armour III, Muthiya took to the course. But the clubs weren't enough.
Seven time zones away, studying the scroll at the bottom of the ESPN broadcast, Wongani agonized as the number next to his brother's name kept growing.