By Ivano Ficalbi
Grassroots development is paying dividends as young South Africans are oming through the ranks
With South African golfers continuing to punch above their weight on the professional tours of the world, it should come as no surprise to see our juniors shining on the global stage too.
In the most recent example, the Ciputra Enjoy Jakarta World Junior Golf Championship in Indonesia, South Africa collected top-five finishes in the boys and girls age 13-14 categories, as Cole Stevens tied for third in the boys section, while Caitlyn Macnab finished in a share of fourth position in the girls section.
A little further back, Hilmi Mallick finished 14th and Symone Henriques came in 11th.
With our junior players participating in relatively few international events, the World Junior Championships have become a good yardstick for measuring the strength of South Africa’s up-and-coming juniors against some of the world’s best – and the outlook is positive. Last year, all four South African participants claimed top-10 finishes in their respective divisions.
Women’s Golf South Africa vice-president Sally Greasley accompanied the juniors to Indonesia and was impressed not only with their play but their positive attitudes in difficult conditions.
‘It’s not easy to be confronted with so many foreign aspects,’ she explained, ‘but they took to the task like real champions’.
‘When you take the language barrier, the foreign food and the pressure of a prestigious event like this into account and you add the heat and humidity, combined with a course that is nothing like we have at home, it could have been an overwhelming week, but all four juniors stepped up.’
A strong junior programme is critical to producing good professional players and one doesn’t need to cast one’s mind back too far to remember when the likes of Brandon Stone, Haydn Porteous, Zander Lombard and Christiaan Bezuidenhout were vying for the ranking of top amateur in the country. This foursome now represents our top up-and-coming golfers, plying their trade on the European, Sunshine and European Challenge Tours, while former SA No 1 golfer Bertine Strauss has played her way onto the prestigious LPGA Tour.
The strong performances of Stevens and Mallick are the latest example of the numerous achievements of players hailing from the South African Golf Development Board. The SAGDB was founded in 1999 and, since then, a tremendous amount of time, effort and money has been invested into developing a system of coaching and talent identification of youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.
There have been many success stories over the years and, since its inception, the SAGDB has coached well over 17 000 youngsters, produced two senior national players and five players in the senior national squad, 25 senior provincial and under-23 players and 108 junior provincial players. Six former SAGDB players have gone on to earn their tour cards on the Sunshine Tour.
East London’s Zethu Myeki, ranked third on the women’s amateur ranking and a Springbok golfer, is a product of the SAGDB and is a member of the WGSA National Squad. The SAGDB also has seven of its players in the men’s National Squad of elite players, so it’s clear that the organisation has plenty to be proud of.
Arguably more important than producing champion golfers, the SAGDB also aims to provide a positive influence in the lives of the youngsters, helping them to develop into stable role models in their own communities through the discipline and deep values they learn from the game of golf.