• Eyeing the silverware

    PGA Championship preview
    Will we see another playoff?

    There are so many famous names on one of the country’s most sought-after trophies. Who will be crowned South Africa’s PGA Championship king in 2018, asks GARY LEMKE in Compleat Golfer.

    What is it about this event and playoffs? The last three tournaments have needed extra holes to determine the winner.

    Last year Erik van Rooyen prevailed in a three-way shootout, seeing off Dylan Frittelli and Makhetha Mazibuko on the first extra hole. ‘The 18th is not an easy hole,’ said Van Rooyen. ‘I didn’t really plan to stiff it with my second in the playoff.

    My plan was to hit where I hit it in regulation, and that’s just the middle of the green. You need to give yourself a chance, especially after I saw where Makhetha hit his ball in the bunker. I knew par might have a chance. But my approach drew back so nicely and it almost went in. It was fantastic.

    ‘Obviously this win will give me a huge confidence boost. But, you know, you always think you can do it before you actually do it, and then you know you can do it. So to know that I can do it, that I’ve got the game to win, I’ve got the mental side to win, is awesome,’ said Van Rooyen.

    He followed up the victory at the Eye of Africa by taking his world ranking from 636th at the end of 2016 to 142nd at the end of 2017.

    ‘This and the South African Open are the biggest titles in this country,’ said Jaco van Zyl after winning in 2016.

    ‘It’s wonderful to have won this one for a third time. It’s a privilege to have my name on the trophy alongside some of the great golfing names.’

    That 2016 victory also saw the then 37-year-old give the R1.9-million stand on the Eye of Africa Golf Estate he won to his caddie, Jason ‘Pup’ Reynolds, who was on his bag for the first time in tournament play. ‘At the beginning of the week, I told Pup I would give him the stand,’ said Van Zyl, for whom the victory was enough.

    There was no tournament in 2015, but in 2014 Titch Moore also had a day to remember – as if winning the PGA title wasn’t a dream come true all by itself – because it had been six years and four months since Moore had won a Sunshine Tour title. He was finally able to fulfil the wish of his six-year-old son, who had been asking him for a trophy for all his young life.

    ‘It was also my younger son’s third birthday today, so there’s real cause to celebrate,’ Moore said after a birdie on the fifth playoff hole saw off Ulrich van den Berg.

    And in 2013 another playoff had seemed likely after runaway leader Chris Swanepoel started to drop shots at Country Club Johannesburg as if he was throwing confetti at a wedding. Four shots ahead after 13 holes, Swanepoel dropped shots on holes 14, 15, 17 and 18 to sign for a final-round 71 and finish two behind Van Zyl, with Frittelli being the one to charge up the leaderboard with a final-round 67, to be only one behind Van Zyl at the end.

    ‘After nine holes, I honestly thought it was pretty much over and done with’ Van Zyl said. ‘He [Swanepoel] was playing very nicely, and he looked really solid out there. My caddie kept me motivated, and kept telling me it boils down to the last nine holes. It’s always nice winning, but it’s never nice seeing someone else battling on the last nine holes,’ Van Zyl said.

    And it was in 2012 that Sunshine Tour veteran Keith Horne showed that life can begin at 40.

    ‘It has been a long time coming,’ Horne said after his triumph at Country Club Johannesburg. ‘I’m over the moon that I can tick this off. I would have been disappointed to have played in South Africa for so long and never won a big tournament. And this is a big one. It’s been going for many years with so many big names on the trophy. I really feel like I’m a big player in South Africa now,’ he said.

    Indeed, the 2012 PGA Championship wasn’t Horne’s final victory. He went on to record two victories in 2014 –  the Vodacom Origins (St Francis) and the Vodacom Origins Final, as well as the 2015 Sun City Challenge and the 2017 Vodacom Origins (Arabella).

    And so we move to the 2018 edition. We don’t know who will have their name engraved on the trophy, but we do know there won’t be a dull moment.

    Perhaps we will even see another playoff to determine the champion.

    A CRUEL GAME

    The world appeared to be at the feet of Makhetha Mazibuko, who a year ago came agonisingly close to pulling off what would have been an amazing victory at the PGA Championship.

    A product of the SA Golf Development Board’s efforts in the Free State, and then of the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation, and the Sunshine Tour’s Gary Player Class of 2017 initiative, Mazibuko narrowly missed a par putt on the 72nd hole which would have given him the victory. He lost in the playoff.

    Buoyed by the breakthrough – and a cheque for R138 150 – he found himself in three big tournaments to end the wraparound 2016-17 season. There, he followed up a week after the Eye of Africa with a tie for 53rd at the Dimension Data Pro-Am. Then came two missed cuts, at the Joburg Open and Tshwane Open.

    The 2017-18 season opened last April with a missed cut at the Zimbabwe Open. In 18 subsequent events on the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit, he missed 11 cuts and recorded a best finish of a tie for 16th, at the Vodacom Origins (St Francis).

    Mazibuko turns 30 this February and he and his many supporters will also be wishing a turnaround in fortunes for him.

    THE COURSE

    This par-72 Greg Norman-designed championship course spans 7 222m. The wide fairways and the A1A4 greens (a unique Norman strain) offer a fair challenge to golfers of all abilities. The course is played as a continuous loop, with the halfway house overlooking the 9th green. From the 1st tee to the 18th green, Norman and his team included extensive bunkering and attempted to integrate the course seamlessly with its stunning natural surrounds.

    MULTIPLE WINNERS

    7 – Bobby Locke (1938, 1939, 1940, 1946, 1950, 1951, 1955)

    6 – Sid Brews (1926, 1928, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1952)

    4 – Charles McIlvenny (1927, 1929, 1931, 1932) Gary Player (1959, 1969, 1979, 1982) Harold Henning (1965, 1966, 1967, 1972)

    3 – Jock Verwey (1948, 1949, 1954) Dale Hayes (1974, 1975, 1976) Ernie Els (1992, 1995, 1999) Jaco van Zyl (2009, 2013, 2016)

    – This article first appeared in the February issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale

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