subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Growing them like we used to ... that was the title for a Business Day column I did in 2011 when we celebrated Charl Schwartzel winning The Masters at Augusta. 

Just 26 at the time, Schwartzel became the youngest Masters champion since Tiger Woods in 2001 when he holed an 18-footer at Augusta National to win. His triumph came just nine months after Louis Oosthuizen lifted the Claret Jug at The Open Championship with a seven-stroke victory at St Andrews and three years after Trevor Immelman donned the Green Jacket at Augusta. 

Golf fans across SA revelled in these achievements from our young stars and the promise of more to come. 

Earlier this week, Schwartzel, now 38, and another former powerhouse, Branden Grace, teed it up in one of the final qualifying events for the 151st Open. Remarkably, the pair turned back the clock and made it through the brutal qualifying event at Royal Cinque Ports to qualify alongside unheralded 29-year-old Martin Rohwer.

A little later, in West Lancashire, the Sunshine Tour’s reigning players champion Kyle Barker snatched one of the five spots on offer into the season’s third Major with a joint second-place. 

While watching Rohwer and Barker rocketing up the leader boards I went on a trip down memory lane. 

Since Bobby Locke, and later Gary Player, began making headlines worldwide in the 1940s and 50s, SA has been pipelining world-beaters.

Locke won the Open four times from 1949 to 1957, then passed the torch to Player, the first foreigner to win The Masters and still the only South African — and the only non-American — to have achieved a career Grand Slam.

Player won three Masters, two PGA Championships, one US Open, and three Open Championships from 1959 to 1978. That he was spread these nine titles across 20 years speaks volumes about the talent, tenacity and winner’s mentality of this SA golfing icon, who continues to inspire the rising ranks 40 years later. 

Two years after Player’s last success at Augusta National in 1978, SA celebrated its first women’s Major champion in Sally Little. She too became a double winner when she lifted the LPGA Championship title in 1988. 

Then Ernie Els and Retief Goosen emerged. Over the next decade they won two US Opens apiece and Els added his first Open title to his tally in 2002. When Els edged Adam Scott with a birdie at the 72nd hole to win the 141st Open at the Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, SA’s proud Major record blossomed to 24 titles. In 2022, Ashleigh Buhai made it a cool 25 with her play-off triumph in the Women’s Open at Muirfield. 

While we are still sorely lagging on Major bragging rights in the women’s space, owning 22 Major titles in the men’s space is pretty incredible when you consider the stats. 

There have been 475 Majors played in men’s golf Major championship history — 87 Masters, 124 US Opens, 150 Open Championships and 104 PGA Championships.

In that time, 20 countries claimed a Major champion.

The balance of power has been quite one-sided with three of the Majors staged in the US. Not surprisingly, the Americans lead the way with 134 players winning 281 titles. Next best is Scotland, with 31 players winning 55 Majors, and England, with 36 Majors from 20 players. SA ranks fourth, with seven players amassing our 22 titles. 

It is an incredible record, and one that gives us reason to reflect.

Since 2012, SA men golfers have been racking up victories on the top circuits around the world, such as Grace, Brandon Stone, Dylan Frittelli, Eric van Rooyen, Dean Burmeister, Shaun Norris, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Garrick Higgo, Ockie Strydom and Wilco Nienaber.

Just last week, we enjoyed a flurry of wins as Jbe’ Kruger celebrated his second win in Japan, five-time DP World Tour champion Darren Fichardt won on the Challenge Tour and reigning SA Open champion Thriston Lawrence emulated Els to win the BMW International Open in Germany for his fourth triumph on the DP World Tour. 

But only one player has come close to closing out another Major title since Els in 2012 as Oosthuizen took his runner-up tally to six with second-place finishes in the 2012 Masters, the 2015 and 2021 US Opens, and the 2017 and 2021 PGA Championships. 

That tells me there is a big clog in our Major pipeline. 

The Open always delivers on brilliant golf, incredible shot-making, heartache, delight and moments of controversy — everything you would expect from a Major. In a few weeks, the Old Guard of Els, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel will be shooting for more Major glory at Hoylake.

Gunning for a first will be Grace, Lawrence, Bezuidenhout, Strydom, debutants Barker and Rohwer and the exciting amateur prospect Christo Lamprecht, who earned his berth courtesy of his Amateur Championship victory in England just a fortnight ago. 

I will be glued to the small screen, and I won’t be the only South African praying silently that among the emerging breed of young SA golfers one becomes a dominant force. 

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.