Darren Fichardt, one of the seasoned Sunshine Tour professionals, has tasted victory and now he wants more, writes MIKE GREEN in Compleat Golfer.
When Darren Fichardt won the Joburg Open, Dale Hayes suggested during the trophy presentation that he had done so at a ‘ripe old age’.
At 41, Fichardt is hardly over the hill, but he does bring a maturity to his game that saw him win the tournament with younger players snapping at his heels. And it’s made him a golfer to reckon with.
Fichardt has won R19.7-million in prize money on the Sunshine Tour and in tournaments co-sanctioned by his home Tour and the European Tour. There’s a little more that can be added to his war-chest with three more European Tour victories. Life is like that for players as good as he is. It’s a step down from the insane numbers the real big shots in the sport win, but enough to allow for more than enough comfort.
He’s been a professional since 1994. That kind of experience, when married with his talent, is invaluable. It’s what made it possible to hold off what seemed to be the irresistible charge of Jacques Kruyswijk at the Joburg Open, and it’s what makes it likely that there are plenty more victories – on the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour – to come.
‘Geez, man, it’s good to win again,’ he said. ‘My form in the past couple of months has been horrendous, but I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to play as many tournaments as I can and just get my game right. And it worked out.
‘Getting the win at the Joburg Open was definitely about drawing on years of experience. Every time I’m in contention, I usually win. With my history, I take a lot of confidence into those situations, especially going into the back nine.
‘I said to Jady de Beer, my caddie, “You know what, we’ve been in this position many times, and we do usually win. So let’s just do what we do, play our game. It seems to have worked in the past. And then, if we win, we win. If we don’t win, the other guy beat us.”
‘So, I didn’t add unnecessary pressure on myself. I just took it stride for stride. I’d won four European Tour events before. It wasn’t as if I was going for my first one, and I knew I could do it. I was just taking pressure off myself all the time.’
The win also gave Fichardt something else that perhaps people might have felt would have passed him by at the age of 41: the Joburg Open was once again part of The Open Qualifying Series. The top three players not otherwise already exempt for this year’s Open at Royal Birkdale punched their tickets to the world’s oldest championship.
‘I like that course a lot,’ he said. ‘I once rented a house near there and practised on the course a few times. I last played The Open when Louis Oosthuizen won in 2010, so I’m looking forward to it.’
So, Fichardt gets to return to Major championship play in his sixth appearance at The Open since his first one in 2000. That goes with a 2007 appearance at the US Open.
Part of the benefit of experience is that – despite the excitement of playing at The Open once again and winning a title after a lengthy break – Fichardt seems able to keep himself up for the next tournament. And although he doesn’t necessarily get into a winning position the following week, it’s not because he’s mentally drained from the previous week.
‘It’s effortless the week after a win,’ he says. ‘You’ve already won, so you’re going out the next week and just enjoying it, and that’s the key thing in this game. You need to enjoy it, and let your talent and experience take over. Play hole for hole, shot for shot, and just have fun when you’re out there. The good results will come.’
The good result at the Joburg Open meant he could ditch an increasingly heavy tournament load he’d planned in an effort to retain his European Tour card, in favour of a more measured approach. ‘I had a schedule that was packed with tournaments in places I didn’t really want to go to. I was thinking, “I just need to get to that number where I can keep my card, then I can free up and play.” I’ve managed to do that early in the year, so I’m excited for the year ahead. I can play golf with no stress.’
In hindsight, that would probably be the way to approach a career early on, rather than the later stages of one. Life on tour has a certain glamour for outsiders, and perhaps young professionals don’t appreciate all they have when they set out on fledgling careers.
‘I’d fly into Paris, go straight to the course, practise, go to the hotel, go back to the course, then the hotel … the past three or four years I’ve been a tourist and a golfer,’ Fichardt says.
‘Because I’ve seen all the courses, I’ll play maybe nine or 18 holes one day, and the other two days before a tournament, I’ll spend exploring. I’ve been enjoying that. So, mixing it up a bit has got the excitement of travel back for me.
‘I need to enjoy every moment and phase in life. I love the golf, I love the travel, I love seeing places, meeting people. I’m at that point in my life where I know where I want to be in this career. I know what I’ve achieved and I know what I can achieve. I also know what I still want to achieve.
‘I’m more secure now that I’m a little older, and I’m not as intense as I was when I was always trying to prove things to myself. I know I can do it.
‘It’s just a matter of being relaxed and pacing myself, and putting myself in a place mentally and emotionally where I can achieve my goals.’
It takes a special commitment to achieve those goals. And personal sacrifices that are perhaps unimaginable for the average Joe, who may earn that kind of money in a career lasting a lifetime. One of those sacrifices is leaving his home, with wife Natasha and sons Tristan and Ethan staying in South Africa.
‘I have to work through the difficulty of leaving my young family behind when I travel abroad,’ Fichardt says. ‘It’s tough. The kids started school last year. It’s tricky working around that because I’m a family man.
‘In the Middle East swing in January and February this year, I did three weeks away from the kids. That’s the first time I’ve been away from them for that long. It’s usually two weeks and I’m back home. It takes a huge toll on the family, getting used to this new way of life. So, I try to get through it week by week.
‘It’s hard on them, and it’s pretty hard on me too. I’m so used to being in a hotel with three other people in the room with me. Now I’m by myself, and it can get lonely. Luckily, I’ve got my brother-in-law on the bag, so I have some family on tour with me.
‘Natasha comes out with me every now and again. She flies a lot, trying to keep us all happy. She’s like the centre of the wheel, you could say. We manage to work around it. Last year was a big adjustment, and that’s why I didn’t have a great year – I was dealing with other things – but it’s getting easier.’
It looked easy when he won the Joburg Open, even though it took a nerveless birdie putt on the 18th to clinch it. And, with 15 Sunshine Tour titles to his credit, you can bet your bottom dollar there will be more to come. And more European Tour titles.
An early goal now that he has secured his European Tour card will be to make the cut at The Open. He’s never done that.
The sense of ease about Fichardt is significant. It’s noticeably different from the tension that surrounded him while he played as a younger professional. Perhaps a phone call to Dale Hayes might be in order. Let him know that 41 is not a ‘ripe old age’.
For Darren Fichardt, it signifies the beginning of a new phase in his life that he is relishing.
15 Sunshine Tour victories
22 Most consecutive cuts made
61 Lowest recorded
86 Top-10 finishes
19.7m Sunshine Tour career prize money in rands
SUNSHINE TOUR WINS
1998 Highveld Classic
2001 The Tour Championship, Zimbabwe Open
2004 Dimension Data Pro-Am
2006 Vodacom Origins Tour Final, Highveld Classic
2009 Nashua Masters, Vodacom Business (Selborne), Platinum Classic
2010 Dimension Data Pro-Am
2011 Vodacom Origins (Wild Coast), Suncoast Classic
2013 Africa Open
2015 Vodacom Origins Final
2017 Joburg Open
– This article first appeared in the April issue of Compleat Golfer