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Nate Lashley won the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, finishing at 25 under, six strokes ahead of the next closest player. He met the media Sunday. Tony Paul, The Detroit News

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Detroit — It was early Saturday evening that it became crystal clear that Nate Lashley was going to be the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic champion, even though there were 18 holes remaining.

Less clear: Who the heck is Nate Lashley?

"He's awesome. He's a man's man, he's a guy, he loves sports, he's from Nebraska so he loves the Cornhuskers," said Ricky Romano, who's been Lashley's caddie for the last two years, as well as a long-time friend. "He's just a real down-to-earth guy, a real calm, cool, collected guy, and he's kind of soft-spoken. He doesn't really say much."

It's true, Lashley isn't much of a talker.

Of course, moments earlier, under the shade of the tree outside of the scorer's trailer at Detroit Golf Club, Lashley walked by, spotted Romano holding court with a reporter or two and smirked.

"Don't say anything stupid," Lashley chimed in.

Turns out, it was too late.

On Tuesday afternoon, as Romano was getting a ride to the airport in Phoenix to fly to Detroit, he told his buddy (and his ride) that Lashley, a 36-year-old journeyman pro who'd never won on the PGA Tour, was going to win this week in Detroit.

"That's a true story," Romano said. "I (bleep) you not."

Did he share that sentiment with Lashley?

"Uhh, no, he didn't tell me that," Lashley said, smiling. "I don't know that many caddies will ever say that to a player."

So, what exactly prompted Romano to say that in the first place?

He's not exactly sure. Of course, his guy had been showing signs of life lately, with a first-round 67 at the U.S. Open earlier in the month, and a top-10 finish earlier in the season. But calling your shot, when you're staring at a 156-player field that featured world No. 2 Dustin Johnson, and several other top-100 golfers, which didn't include Lashley, who came into the week ranked 353rd (he's 101st, as of Monday)?

Yeah, that's pretty darn bold.

"I don't know. I've stuck with Nate for a long time," said Romano, who's previously caddied for the likes of Ben Crane, Jason Kokrak, Aaron Wise, Sung Kang, Charlie Beljian and Arjun Atwal. "We've been through a lot and he's been trending in the right direction. I don't really know why I said it, but I wanted to be there for his success. That's what I mean. That's really just it. I love this job, I love caddying, and I'd do anything for Nate. It's just nice to see him playing well."

Lashley, of course, had an interesting week, starting with a Monday qualifier at The Orchards. He didn't make it there, but got on the alternate list, at No. 3. He thought he'd get in, and a little bit before noon Wednesday, he got the official word. He'd be teeing it up Thursday at Detroit Golf Club.

Meanwhile, Lashley had texted Romano on Tuesday and told him the situation. He asked if Romano could get to Detroit, even though there was no guarantee of work.

Romano could've stayed home in Mesa, Ariz., but he never really considered it. He booked a late-night flight into Detroit, and was ready to go Wednesday.

"You have to come, just in case something like this happens," said Romano, who watched Lashley finish 25 under, for a six-shot victory Sunday. "I told a friend before I left, 'I have to make it to the tournament, he's playing well.' This is probably the week he wins, and I want to be there. I don't want to miss his success."

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Veteran move, and a wise move.

Lashley earned $1.314 million for the victory, and PGA Tour standard is that for a win, 10 percent goes to the caddie. So you figure, Romano just made himself $130,000, more than making up for the last-minute travel and stress from early in the week.

The tournament victory also means no more Monday qualifiers for Lashley, no more alternate lists, PGA Tour status through next season, and a bunch of majors. He's up to 40th in the standings for the FedEx Cup, which at season's end will award a cool $15 million to the winner. That's good stuff, for Lashley and Romano.

"There will be no more Tuesday night flights," Romano said. "We'll be able to set our schedule, which would be awesome."

Romano, a darn good golfer in his own right, and Lashley have known each other since college (Romano played at University of Houston, Lashley at University of Arizona), but have been close since their mini-tour days, starting in 2008. And when Lashley got his PGA Tour card last season, the business relationship began.

But they're good friends, too. While they don't spend a lot of time together off the course during a tournament week — "Gotta keep it fresh," Romano said — they hang out a lot when they're home in Arizona. They live 35 minutes apart; Lashley lives in Scottsdale. They'll play golf. They'll watch sports. Often, Lashley will invite Romano over, and grill up some steaks.

Good chance the steaks will be more prime moving forward, not that Lashley figures to change all that much.

"He's such a great guy. Deep down, he's awesome," Romano said.

"I love the guy to death."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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