Back to work: Reigning champion Brandon Stone, right, and Nick Faldo get the feel of the Glendower course ahead of Thursday’s start of the SA Open. Picture: LUKE WALKER/SUNSHINE TOUR/GALLO IMAGES
Back to work: Reigning champion Brandon Stone, right, and Nick Faldo get the feel of the Glendower course ahead of Thursday’s start of the SA Open. Picture: LUKE WALKER/SUNSHINE TOUR/GALLO IMAGES

SA’s greatest ever golfer, Gary Player, rates current SA Open Champion Brandon Stone highly.

"It was an absolute pleasure to have Brandon in my Olympic team in Rio last year. The young man has immense talent and if he applies it correctly, there is no telling how well he can do," said Player, who won the SA Open a record 13 times.

"I wish him everything of the best in defending his title and for the remainder of his career."

Stone begins his defence at Glendower Golf Club on Thursday and the 23-year-old Mount Edgecombe golfer is quietly confident of replicating 2016’s result.

The Sunshine Tour Order of Merit leader does, however, face a star-studded field that includes five Major winners in Ernie Els, Rory Mcllroy, Nick Faldo, Retief Goosen and Darren Clark – and three former world No1s in Els, Faldo and Mcllroy.

Stone’s Open win in only his second start on the European Tour made him the youngest champion since 1997, the year the event was first co-sanctioned by the European and Sunshine Tours. He is now bidding to become the first player since Trevor Immelman (2003-04) to retain the title.

"I rested nicely over the festive season watching movies and doing chores around the house, now it’s back to work and I’m raring to go," said Stone, who is ranked 72 in the world.

"I do enjoy the course, which is playing similar to last year with the rain and all. I played a practice round on Monday with a couple of amateurs and shot 61, so I was pleasantly surprised by that round coming off a long break. Obviously Rory [Mcllroy] is the man to beat. We’ll be playing together for the first two rounds along with George Coetzee, which is going to make for exciting viewing.

"Rory hits it a mile and longer than me, but I’m not that far behind, so let the duel begin.

"I definitely still have fond memories of last year. To be the SA champion and then to play in two Majors and compete at the Olympics, as well as finish inside the top 50 in the Race to Dubai, was special.

"Following that winning at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek by seven shots, was more than I could ever have asked for.

"The only downer was not playing well abroad.

"Having my dad in my corner lifts the spirits for sure," added Stone. "He’s a pro and my golf mentor. He has made me a far better professional."

Stone has amassed career earnings of a tad more than R7.5m in his three years as a pro. He joined the paid ranks in 2013 and had to wait until the back end of 2015 for his maiden pro win on the Sunshine Tour when he triumphed in the Lion Of Africa Cape Town Open at Royal Cape.

He has been on a hot streak most of the time since then and the youngster is now targeting a repeat of the 2016 Open.

Watch him and the likes of fellow young guns Haydn Porteous, Zander Lombard and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who finished runner-up to Stone 12 months ago.

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