Region’s elite golfers turn focus on Africa’s major

By Robson Sharuko

Harare – They went, they fought but they didn’t conquer as their bid to capture one of the four prized golf Major trophies once again fell short this year with, for some of them, the crushing defeat in the 2017 Presidents Cup at the hands of the Americans, a reminder of the shift in the balance of power in the game.   

Five years after Ernie Els won the British Open in 2012, the best of Southern African golfers have tried and failed to win one of the ultimate prizes in the game – the Masters, the US Open, the British Open and the US PGA Championships.

And this year, the Americans emphasized that the balance of power has shifted to their country with three of the Major winners – Brooks Koepka (US Open), Jordan Spieth (British Open) and Justin Thomas (US PGA Championships) – being United States golfers.

Only Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia, who won the Masters at Augusta National after a play-off victory over Justin Rose, in grabbing his first Major title, prevented a clean sweep of honours by the rampant Americans.

But that Garcia waited until he was 37, to win his first Major title, while Spieth already has three Major titles under his belt at the young age of 24, maybe puts everything into context in terms of how the Americans – and their new crop of players – are now running the show.

For good measure, Dustin Johnson, another American, also won the other big events – the WGC Mexico Cup and the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play before the United States golfers underlined their quality by thrashing the International side 19-11 in a mismatch of a Presidents Cup.

For the first time in the history of this showdown between the Americans and the best players from around the globe who are not Europeans, the showdown in Jersey City, New Jersey, would have been over inside three days.

“This is a juggernaut of a US team,” Zimbabwe golf legend Nick Price, who captained the International Team for the third straight Presidents Cup, told NBC’s Jimmy Roberts in a brutal and frank assessment of the difference in quality.

“I think we all knew that coming into this week, and anytime we had momentum early on in the rounds, they would shut our momentum down.

‘’That’s a sign of an overpowering team, they played some phenomenal golf this week. The quality of golf… in that breezy, cool weather was just incredible. We just kept losing holes to birdies, I mean, it wasn’t like we were making bogeys and double-bogeys. These guys were firing on all eight-cylinders, and it was tough to watch.”

It has been another tough year for the cream of Southern African golf, in their battle for Major honours, although Louis Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 British Open at the Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland, came second in the US PGA Championships this year.

Oosthuizen will now be hoping for home comforts to deliver a big winners cheque when he competes in the 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge, hosted by legendary South African golfer Gary Player, at Sun City between November 9 and 12 this year.

“The Nedbank Golf Challenge is one of the highlights of the South African sporting calendar,’’ the organisers said on their official website.

“In a 36-year history, the event has featured the biggest names in world golf. With 72 players, playing over 4 days, for a purse of $7,5 million.

“The tournament takes place from the 9th – 12th November 2017 and forms part of the Rolex Series on the European Tour and the penultimate event on the Race to Dubai.’’

And Oosthuizen is delighted with being part of the cast of stars at a tournament that is generally referred to as Africa’s Major.

“I’m always very excited to play the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and I can’t wait to tee it up again this year,’’ he told the organisers.

“Playing in front of a home crowd is always a lot of fun. It all adds up to make this one of the most special weeks on tour.”

The tourney will be played at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City and world number eight Henrik Stenson, the Swede who last year broke his Major golf title drought by winning the British Open, has also confirmed he will play in the 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge.

“The Nedbank Golf Challenge is a tournament that I always enjoy being part of. The Gary Player Country Club is a fantastic place to play golf, and I’m looking forward to getting back to Sun City this year,’’ the Swede said.

“I’ve won there before and have included the event in my schedule for the past few years, so it’s a course that I know well.

‘’We always get a brilliant reception from the South African fans, and I’m sure it will be another enjoyable event.”

Tournament host Gary Player said: “I am delighted to have Louis join us at Sun City as one of South Africa’s leading international players, and I’m so pleased he continues to support golf in South Africa.”

There was a time when the region’s best golfers used to dominate the tournament with Zimbabwe’s Mark McNulty winning in 1986, South Africa’s Allen Fulton in 1988, his countryman David Frost winning three times in 1989, 1990 and 1992, Zimbabwe’s Price also winning three times in 1993, 1997 and 1998.

Els won in 2000 and 2002 and Retief Goosen was the winner in 2004 before Trevor Immelman won the 2007 edition of the tournament.

Since then, Southern Africa has been waiting for a home winner and how fitting will it be that on the 10th anniversary of the last time one of them was crowned the winner of Africa’s Major, one of the region’s best golfers will be crowned champion next month.

October 2017
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