Another South African triumph as the Zim open continues to be dominated by the men from Mzansi
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – IT was the golden decade for Zimbabwe golf – with the country’s golfers winning the Zimbabwe Open seven times, including four times in a row – and Nick Price grabbing three Major titles around the world as he propelled himself into the globe’s number one player in what was a proud moment for a nation of only 15 million people.
Back in the ‘90s, Price won the US Open, the US PGA and the British Open during a dominant period between 1992 and 1994 in which he spent 43 weeks as the number one ranked golfer in the world.
He was named the PGA Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994 and was a leading money winner on the US PGA Tour in both years while finishing fourth in the US Open in 1992 and 1998.
And, every year, Price would fly back home to compete in the Zimbabwe Open, which meant a lot for him, and he won the tournament in 1995, 1997 and 1998, as his class shone brightly over the opposition, while also setting a course record of 63 at Royal Harare.
He wasn’t alone.
Price belonged to a group of classy Zimbabwean golfers – who also included Mark McNulty and Tony Johnstone – who were making waves around the world and dominating their national championship.
McNulty won the Zimbabwe Open in 1992, 1996 and 2000 while Johnstone captured the tournament in 1993.
Between 1995 and 1998, only local golfers won the Zimbabwe Open.
Times, though, have changed.
Since McNulty’s last triumph in 2000, Zimbabwean fans have been waiting, in vain, for a home winner of their biggest golf tournament which has now been turned into a playground by the South African professional golfers.
The South Africans have won the last none Zimbabwe Open golf tournaments, including this year’s championship which was captured by JC Ritchie who beat Trevor Fisher Jnr in a dramatic play-off, at Royal Harare on Sunday.
Darren Fichardt started the South African dominance in 2001, a year before the tournament went off the radar as it battled to find sponsors, and when it returned in 2010, his countryman Jbe’ Kruger emerged triumphant.
Since then, it has been one South African golfers after another on the winners’ podium with Theunis Spangenberg winning in 2011, Chris Swanepoel in 2012, Jack Roos in 2013, Kruger in 2014, Dean Burmester in 2015, Lyle Rowe in 2016 and Ritchie winning the championship this year.
He finished on minus 16, the same score as his fellow South African Trevor Fisher Jnr, before he powered to glory in the play-off.
Ritchie took home R285,300 while Fisher Jnr went home R207,000.
The South Africans dominated the slots in the top 10 with only Doug McGuigan of Scotland, who finished seventh on 11-under par, and Toby Lee of England, who finished eighth on 10-under, ensuring there wasn’t a clean sweep of the top 10 places from the golfers from the Rainbow Nation.
Ritchie was seven-over-par in his first seven holes of the tournament but, somehow, bounced back superbly to win the tourney.
“I actually started the week off quite rough. I was seven-over-par after seven holes. I made that eagle-two on the ninth and that’s where it turned around for me,” Ritchie he told the Sunshine Tour’s official website.
“That was unreal golf. I really enjoyed it and never really felt like I was out of contention. It was one of the best putting expositions I’ve had in my entire life.
“I felt last night that 63 today would definitely win by one. I didn’t expect Fish to make double on the 17th, he was playing unreal golf. When I got onto 15 tee box I knew I needed three more (birdies). I hit an unreal second shot into 16 and lipped out for eagle.’’
Fisher should have won it but for a double bogey on the penultimate hole which opened the door for the champion who won his first title on the Sunshine Tour.
A number of golfers matched Price’s record low score of 63, this year, but no one could match the Zimbabwean’s record 22-under par aggregate score of 266 with this year’s winners finishing on 16-under-par.
Fisher Jnr was only left with the satisfaction of equaling the Royal Harare Golf Club course record of nine-under-par 63 on Friday when he went on a four-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the tournament.
He became a member of the exclusive club that includes Price, Italian Francesco Laporta and 2015 champion Dean Burmester.
“It’s great to join players like Nick Price and Dean Burmester as course-record holders here. I hope I can break it over the weekend,’’ said Fisher Jnr.
There was hope for a home winner on day one when Ryan Cairns finished the first round just a shot behind the leader.
But, as has always been the case with Zimbabwean golfers since the turn of the millennium, Cairns’ challenge faded as the weight of expectations from a country yearning for its local winner began to grow.
In the end, he finished tied 32nd in the championship.
The locals will have to wait, once again, for a local hero and the days when the likes of McNulty, Johnstone and Price dominated the tournament and even Anderson Rusike, as an amateur, won the first championship in 1984.