When Anton Haig won the 2007 Johnnie Walker Classic, he owned the global golf spotlight. But in the last two months since the former European Tour champion pegged it up on the IGT Tour, it’s been more like living under a microscope.
Those who competed against him in his first six starts on the country’s premier development tour said that Haig is hitting it better than ever and believed a victory was imminent. But Haig knew it would take a remarkable performance to convince the rest of the world.
So the lanky 29-year-old Nelspruit pro did it the best way he knew how and sealed a wire-to-wire victory in the ERPM Challenge with a flawless final round 10-under-par 62.
The group gathered around the 18th green at ERPM Golf Club was tiny in comparison to the roaring crowd that celebrated his victory in Thailand. Winning on the IGT Tour was a far cry from his glory days on the European Tour stage, but for Haig, this win was the most significant ever.
“This gives me so much confidence that I am on the right track,” Haig admitted. “If this had happened when I had the lead in my first start on the IGT Tour, who knows how it might have ended.”
Haig laughed when he said that, but he meant every word.
“I’m not trying to send any message out there,” he said. “I’m playing well again and I believe I can be a factor when I tee it up in the Investec Royal Swazi Open in May. If I play like I did this week, if I keep my head straight, I think I’ll be a factor. I want to make the most of every sponsor’s invitation to play my way back on to the Sunshine Tour and I know I’ve gone about it the right way.”
Haig said that is what the last two months have been about.
“I came back to the IGT Tour, because I knew I needed to start small,” he said. “I needed this platform to build up to being in contention again. I needed to win here to know when I’d be ready for the Sunshine Tour again.
“And it wasn’t a gimme. I had to work for it. I had to put in the hours, I had to do the hard work and I had to grind out this victory. Just getting into contention was a huge thing for me. Pulling it through is huge for me. I believe that God gives you exactly what you can handle. He knew I could handle it.”
The podium finish ended a three year trophy drought since Haig last lifted a trophy on the Big Easy Tour. His winning score of 21 under was just one shot shy of the IGT Tour all-time 54-hole record set by three-time Sunshine Tour winner Danie van Tonder at Houghton earlier this year.
His scorecard boasted eight birdies and an eagle at the par five 13th and he finished four shots clear of Carrie Park, who fired an equally impressive 66.
“It could have been better, but I not greedy,” Haig joked. “I hit my drive 385 metres and I had 120 metres to the pin. The approach finished three feet shy of the hole; could have been an albatross.
“I’m hitting the ball really well and very long. I’m not missing many greens, but my short game is just as solid. The most important thing was that I was absolutely calm. I had a lot of butterflies in that first start in February, but I didn’t feel any nerves today. I’m ready for the next level.”
It’s clear that Haig has turned another huge personal corner this week.
The first was admitting that he had a drug problem. The second corner was entering the programme at the South Coast Recovery Centre. The third was receiving his one-year sobriety chip in February.
So how will the former party boy celebrate this victory?
“How much Kentucky and strawberry milkshakes you can buy for R9,000?,” he laughed.
“This win might be small fry for most people, but it means the world to me. It tells my parents, Rory (Dyer), Meyer (du Toit) and my sponsors Investec and Dimension Data that they are backing the right horse. It says thank you to the IGT Tour family – Cois, Lokkie and CJ (du Plooy) – and the staff, the pros and amateurs who all rooted for me. My game is solid and my head in the right place, so who knows what happens next?”
Who knows, indeed? After all, Anton Haig is back.
All competitors RSA unless otherwise specified and amateurs are indicated as AMA:
195 – Anton Haig 64 69 62
199 – Carrie Park 64 69 66
205 – Simon Kruger 69 71 65
207 – Dean O’Riley 67 70 70
208 – Michael Schutz AMA 67 71 70