De Jonge introduces himself to home region
Harare – An historic Nedbank Golf Challenge, featuring its biggest field in history, did not produce the home-grown winner that the fans wanted but Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe shone brightly, leading the African challenge, at Sun City in South Africa last weekend.
The burly 32-year-old Zimbabwean, playing only his second tournament in South Africa in as many weeks after a 16-year absence from the golf courses of the Rainbow Nation topped the African challenge at the Gary Player Country Club with his impressive fifth-place finish in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
De Jonge, who is the reigning Zimbabwe Sportsperson of the Year and in the running to win the title again this year, shot a 15-under-par 273 to finish five strokes adrift of the winner Thomas Bjorn.
The Zimbabwean ace opened his challenge with a two-under-par 70 but was impressive after that with scores of 68, 69 and a closing six-under-par 66 to produce the best performance of the African representatives at the golf challenge.
Unlike the other top golfers from the region, De Jonge has remained an enigma because his professional career has largely developed in the United States, where he is based and plays on the US PGA Tour, and until this year had not featured in the tournaments held in this part of the world.
He indicated, last month when he went Down Under to play at the Australia Masters that he wanted to take his game beyond the golf courses of America and he would try to play a few tournaments in Europe and around the world. Last weekend, at a tournament where his mentor Nick Price has made an impact in the past by winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge three times and, playing at a course that bears the name of the greatest golfers ever to play the game, De Jonge introduced himself to Southern Africa’s golf fans in style.
De Jonge picked US$295 000 for his fifth-place finish at Sun City, in a tournament that was sanctioned by both the European and Sunshine Tours and that featured an enlarged field of 30 players for the first time in its history.
But money has long ceased to be a priority for the Zimbabwean, who has already turned himself into a millionaire through his earnings on the US PGA Tour, and what matters to him now is playing well and getting that breakthrough win that many feel he deserves.
De Jonge is the latest in a line of world-class golfers who have emerged from this country with Price, who rocketed to world number one in the mid-90s when he was winning Major golf titles, while Mark McNulty and Tony Johnstone all made their presence felt.
It was Price, as captain of the Internationals’ team, who gave De Jonge his place in the side that took on the Americans in the Presidents Cup by making him one of the captain’s picks.
“We’re a very proud sporting country so we all followed his (Price) career very closely,” De Jonge told Sun International, the hosts of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, ahead of this year’s tourney.
“Obviously, when he was world No 1 it was a very proud time for us in Zimbabwe.
“He’s a better person than he ever was a golfer. He’s fun to be around. He’s just a down to earth, regular guy, and a super guy to spend time with.
“But getting the nod for the Presidents Cup really was such a special thing for me. To play for Nick in my first one – well, it just doesn’t get any better than that. It was a dream comes true.
“I maybe didn’t get as many points as I would have liked, but I felt like I played really well and coped with the pressure. We all did. But we just couldn’t quite get over the line, and the Americans just made a few more putts than we did.”
Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, who won the 2011 Masters after a grand finale in which he birdied his final six holes to win the tournament by two shots as Rory Mcllroy imploded at Augusta and came into the Nedbank Golf Challenge brimming with confidence after capturing the Alfred Dunhill Championship, was the second best African performer at Sun City.
Schwartzel finished in sixth place, on 13-under-par, two shots adrift of De Jonge and seven off the leadership, after closing his challenge with a six-under-par 66 having started his first three rounds with 68, 70 and 71. He pocketed US$245 000.
Darren Fichardt, (12th place), Richard Sterne (14th place), Louis Oosthuizen (14th place), Branden Grace (20th place) and Ernie Els (29th place) completed the African challenge.
Els, the golfer who had the biggest profile among the African contingent at Sun City, had a tournament to forget after a 12-over-par 300 in which he shot identical five-over-par 77s in the last two days.
Els’ concentration was probably affected by the death of his former coach, Jos Vonstiphout, with the golfer saying that he would “play with a heavy heart.”
“This is another very sad day. Jos really understood me and what made me tick, which was of course one of the many rare gifts that he possessed,” Els told reporters in South Africa.
“We made a good team for a number of years. I’d have to check my records, but I’d say in our time together we won more than 25 tournaments around the world.
“He was a person with talent and integrity, a good man. I send my thoughts and prayers to his family at this difficult and emotional time.”