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Shaped by dad’s near-death experience, Joey Vrzich a shot of life for Pepperdine

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Each time Joey Vrzich completes a golf swing is a reminder to reside life to the fullest.

Forever inked on the within of the Pepperdine senior’s left bicep is the date July 4, 1989 (drawn as 7.4.89 and accented by a curvy line with three strikes via it to suggest Vrzich, 22, being the third oldest of his 4 brothers), and it turns into seen as soon as Vrzich’s shirt sleeve rides up his arm on his end.

“You know, I wasn’t supposed to be here,” he mentioned.

Nearly 32 years in the past, earlier than any of the Vrzich boys have been born, Vrzich’s father, Michael, was driving his motor house alongside Interstate 8, getting back from Parker, Arizona, to his house close to San Diego, when an 85-gallon propane tank exploded, engulfing the camper in flames. Michael Vrzich barely escaped alive, however the 28-year-old suffered extreme burns over 95% of his physique. Doctors initially gave him simply 24 hours to reside.

“The odds were against him,” UC San Diego Medical Center burn surgeon John Hansbrough informed the Los Angeles Times a few months after the accident. “We thought he would almost certainly die by the first week. But he’s a very strong-willed person. That’s really what brought him through.”

Miraculously, after dozens of main surgical procedures, together with three again operations, Michael survived. He quickly married his spouse, Nicol, whom he had simply began courting three weeks earlier than the explosion, they usually had 4 youngsters, all boys: John, Justin, Joey and Jerrod. They later adopted a fifth son, Danny.

“I asked for God to send me a man to love me,” Nicol says, playfully. “I should’ve been a little more specific.”

Joey was, by all accounts, the wildest little one of the bunch. Though he revered the boundaries set by his mother and father, he was continuously pushing these boundaries. He was adventurous and free-spirited but additionally immature and emotional. When he graduated from Christian High in El Cajon, he couldn’t wait to go away the nest, transferring out in lower than 48 hours.

But faculty was good for Joey, who received twice in his first two seasons on the University of Nevada. He grew to become extra empathetic and happier whereas conserving his outgoing character. When the Wolfpack made it to regionals in Joey’s sophomore yr, he did a backflip reside on Golf Channel. It was the identical flip that Joey as soon as blindly did off the rocks at Emerald Bay State Park in Lake Tahoe, splashing some 30 ft into the water beneath as his brothers anxiously watched to see if he’d ever resurface.

“How many trips does he take where I worry about him hurting himself? Pretty much all of them,” Michael mentioned. “They’re all daredevils.”

Arguably Joey’s largest leap, although, was when he transferred to Pepperdine, becoming a member of a roster loaded with standouts. He performed his first two occasions as a person earlier than working his approach into the lineup, ending the shortened season with three top-10s.

“He was a big fish in a small pond, and then he just decided he wasn’t getting any better,” Nicol mentioned, “so he needed to become a guppy and he had to fight.”

Joey rapidly latched on to eventual Haskins Award winner Sahith Theegala in that first season, studying how one can chip and understanding that scoring doesn’t at all times must look fairly. Coincidentally, it was Theegala who helped speak Pepperdine coach Michael Beard into accepting Joey’s switch, saying, “Coach, everybody likes Joey.”

Joey’s character has been a shot of life for the Waves. He retains the temper mild along with his upbeat power. He’s a fixed style assertion, at all times donning colourful tube socks on the course. He’s a large snowboarder. Oh, and don’t even take into consideration difficult him in Call of Duty; Joey’s within the high 1% of all customers within the first-person shooter recreation.

“He puts about as much time into it as golf,” quipped Justin Vrzich, who performed faculty golf at Cal State-San Marcos earlier than just lately turning professional.

Waves assistant coach Blaine Woodruff, a frequent COD sufferer, remembers final spring when Joey shot 69 within the remaining spherical of the Amer Ari Invitational regardless of severely spraining his ankle taking part in soccer along with his teammates on a Hawaiian seaside. The subsequent match, along with his ankle closely wrapped, Woodruff noticed Joey on the roof of the crew’s rental house, trying to leap into the pool. (He did tie for sixth that week.)

While shut pals like SMU’s Ollie Osborne will joke that Joey nonetheless “acts like a 12-year-old,” Joey has continued to mature as a individual and a golfer. Justin Vrzich observed a large flip change final summer time after Joey received the celebrated California State Amateur at Torrey Pines.

“He just seemed so sure of himself,” Justin mentioned. “It was a calm that I’ve never seen before from him. He was so in control.”



That confidence translated into a enormous senior season for Joey, who led Pepperdine in scoring common (69.96) and top-10s (six) getting into this week’s NCAA Championship, the place he once more paces the Waves at 1 over and T-16 via 54 holes.

“He’s been such a horse for us,” Beard mentioned.

Beard believes Joey will get his resiliency from his dad. Over the years, Joey has come to comprehend that extra. It’s why he doesn’t hesitate when requested who his largest inspiration is. It’s why he and his brothers determined a couple of years in the past whereas on the household trip house in Incline Village, Nevada, to get matching tattoos to commemorate the date of Michael’s accident.

“That guy is so humble, you wouldn’t even know what he’s been through,” Joey mentioned. “I base my life off of that, and I’ve learned a lot from it. What I shoot here today does not matter. When I look back at him and what he went through, if I shoot 80 here, who cares?”

Michael is unsurprisingly Joey’s largest fan, too. His accidents don’t permit him to play, however he positive does love watching his son compete. Back when Joey and his brothers first picked up the sport, Michael was ecstatic that Joey might even get the ball within the air. Several years later, when Joey superior to match play in his U.S. Amateur debut after making birdie at Riviera’s iconic 10th gap in a playoff (and in typical Joey style, from the entrance proper bunker), Michael was in tears.

“I’d never seen him prouder,” mentioned Joey, who received one match that week earlier than dropping to eventual runner-up Doug Ghim. “I love when he comes to watch; he’s always so positive, but it’s funny, he also gets really, really emotional.”

Who can blame him? Michael Vrzich wasn’t alleged to be right here. Neither was his son, Joey. Yet, right here they each are at Grayhawk Golf Club, Joey contending and Michael watching from simply outdoors the ropes.

“This is awesome,” Michael mentioned, choking up and barely in a position to get out phrases for concern of dropping it.

“I love it.”

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