Sloan has devastated Merritt, B.C., on his mind as he tries to compete

Roger Sloan hits from the first tee during the third round of The American Express golf tournament on the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in La Quinta, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo)

Preparing to play in a PGA Tour event some 5,000 kilometres from his devastated hometown, Roger Sloan can only check his phone and hope for the best.

The golfer from Merritt, B.C. (population 7,000) -- who now lives in Houston with his wife Casey and their two young children, and hasn't been home since September 2019 because of COVID-19 border restrictions -- has felt the sting of separation for quite some time. But this week, it's hitting extra hard with his hometown evacuated on Monday after a wastewater treatment plant failure caused by severe flooding.

"It's not a good situation," the 34-year-old Sloan said from Sea Island, Ga., where he is gearing up for this week's RSM Classic.

"On Instagram, I'm seeing a lot of people I know with their kids in hotel rooms. It's not fun to see the overhead pictures of houses flooded, to see mobile homes floating down the river. We just keep assessing the situation and getting updates. Hopefully people stay safe. You can replace a home, but you can't replace a life."

Sloan's parents Curtis and Cathy -- who run a woodworking business in Merritt, which is 200-plus km northeast of Vancouver -- have not experienced flooding in their home and are doing OK, he said.

On Monday night, Sloan met up with fellow PGA golfer Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., and he too reported those closest to him were safe -- Abbotsford also has had flooding and some evacuations.

Sloan's parents, he realizes, are two of the lucky ones. Torrential rains have resulted in mudslides and flooding, and rescue crews have had to use helicopters to get to hundreds of motorists stranded on highways.

“It is a devastating day for Merritt," Jackie Tegart, the local member of the Legislative Assembly of B.C., told CityNews Vancouver.

Growing up in a small town -- where Sloan still holds the course record of 58 at the Merritt Golf & Country Club from 2012 -- makes the situation feel that much worse.

"It's one of the things I miss about it. You go to the grocery store and you know so many people. If you've got car problems, you know the mechanic. If you need lumber, you know the guy at the lumber yard," Sloan said. "In a situation like this, everyone is directly affected.

"But there's no doubt the community is going to pull together and get back to some sense of normalcy."

Sloan can't help but think back to another weather-related situation from 2017 this week. While playing in a Korn Ferry Tour event in Portland, Hurricane Harvey was slamming Houston, where his wife was over 35 weeks pregnant.

Casey stayed with family and friends to ride out the storm, with Roger unable to get home with airports shut.

"My wife was pregnant 2,500 miles away and there was not much I could do," said Sloan, who met Casey when both were student-athletes (she was a volleyball player) at the University of Texas at El Paso.

"It's a similar situation. There's no way for us to get to Merritt right now.

"It really makes you realize the power of water," Sloan added. "It looks so innocent, but it can be such a fierce force."

The pandemic, of course, has caused its own set of challenges over the past two years.

"It's been extremely difficult," he said. "I don't think people realize how hard it is when your family is 2,500 miles away and you can't see them because of border protocols, whether you agree with them or not. I've had two grandparents pass away in the past eight months and it's heart-wrenching watching a funeral service on your phone.

"They (border restrictions and the flooding and mudslides) are two separate issues, but it makes you realize how important it's going to be to get back home. I want to see what we can do to help out the community where (he developed as) a golfer."

For now, all Sloan can do is check in on friends and relatives, cross his fingers that his parents can make it to Houston for their scheduled U.S. Thanksgiving trip next week and focus on the task at hand -- his final tournament of the year.

Sloan, who maintained his PGA Tour card by reaching a six-man playoff in the final event of the 2020-21 regular season (the Wyndham Championship), has missed the past two cuts, including last week in his adopted hometown of Houston.

But after playing nine holes with fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes on Monday, Sloan feels good about his game heading into a tournament where he's one of eight Canucks teeing it up -- tying a record for a PGA Tour event outside Canada.

"I've been struggling a little the last month and a half," he said. "But I've done some work on getting back to basics and there were signs last week that I'm playing some good golf."

If Sloan plays some more good golf when the RSM Classic starts on Thursday, he certainly could raise awareness in golf circles around the world for the challenges being faced by people in his beloved hometown.

"Our hearts go out to everyone there," he said. "They're on our minds."

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