Life hasn’t always dealt young Sunshine Tour pro, Keenan Davidse, the best cards but he is ready to rise, writes MICHAEL VLISMAS in Compleat Golfer.
Suddenly, on the eve of the Eye of Africa PGA Championship, Keenan Davidse felt that dull ache inside.
It was the memory of a man, Brian, whose trade was a humble plumber, but whose art was being an incredible father. The memory of the man who led him to the golf course when he was just three years old.
‘I lost the plot when my father passed away in 2006,’ says Davidse in between yet another weather delay at this Sunshine Tour event. ‘My dad was a great person. He was such a nice guy. He was one of the best to just sit and have a chat with and ask advice. He was also a great sportsman. He was a good example for me.’
Davidse’s memories of his father are heightened at this particular time in his life when he is playing the best golf of his career and is enjoying being a father
for the first time.
The young golfer is nearing the end of his most successful season on the Sunshine Tour. He’s had five top-10s, and is a member of the Gary Player Class of 2017-18. This is a squad of golfers who form part of the Sunshine Tour’s main development drive for historically disadvantaged professional golfers. The Class benefits from the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) and the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation (EEFF) as part of the collective golf development efforts in this country.
He came close to a maiden victory when he finished second at the Vodacom Origins of Golf at Arabella, losing by three strokes to the vastly experienced Keith Horne.
On the bigger stage, Davidse led the first round of the Joburg Open last December, a tournament tri-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, European Tour and Asian Tour.
There is no doubt Davidse is entering the best form of his life. And it’s also no coincidence that the golfer feels he is only now beginning to become the example his father set for him, and the man he wants to be for his own son.
It’s the very reason he speaks of the ‘old Keenan’ when referring to the golfer he was as an amateur and the one he has worked hard to become as a professional. Davidse was a top amateur for Boland, represented SA and was selected to join Els’ EEFF. But in 2006, his world was ripped apart.
‘It was a difficult decision for me to turn professional,’ he says. ‘When my dad passed away, I didn’t finish school and dropped out and turned pro.’
What Davidse took with him into the professional ranks was an obvious talent for the game and the expectation of so many, especially those in his home village of Jamestown just outside Stellenbosch. But what he also took with him was what he describes as an arrogance that didn’t always endear him to his amateur peers.
‘I approached the game differently when I was an amateur. Obviously there wasn’t money involved, and people didn’t really care about your attitude and how you put yourself out there. As an amateur, I was arrogant and I think it still counts against me. I thought a lot of myself, or at least that’s what I hear from other people.
‘I didn’t care about anybody else. I tried to intimidate the other players by talking a lot and just being the old Keenan. Nobody could tell me I couldn’t do something. I was never rude or anything. It was just a case of, for example, when I played matchplay I would go up to my opponent and tell him clearly, “Listen here, you’re going to regret playing today.” That was me. I tried to intimidate them.’
There’s a sense that Davidse grew up fighting to prove a point. In a way, he reflects the village he grew up in.
Today, Jamestown is framed by an ever-growing Stellenbosch and the opulent De Zalze Golf Estate. This town, that started in the early-1900s as a missionary outpost, has a history of fighting for its own identity. It had a name change for political reasons and the coloured residents fought to have the name restored. It was almost wiped off the map by the Group Areas Act. And now it fights a different battle of survival amid the rapidly growing infrastructure around it, the hunt for land by developers and a general season of change that threatens its old ways.
Jamestown lists with pride Keenan Davidse as one of its most famous sons.
‘Jamestown has grown. It’s beautiful and the people are always friendly. I get a lot of support from Jamestown and they always stop to have a chat when I’m there.’
He admits he was a lot more aggressive on the golf course during his amateur days. As the son of a nurse and a plumber who were devoted and loving parents and made sure their child never wanted for anything, they certainly did not have the means to join him on his golf travels.
‘It felt different for me out there as my dad and mom weren’t able to travel with me. So I always felt like I was playing against the other opponents and their families. I was a little bit aggressive on and off the course.’
As such, Davidse never stood back from anyone or any challenge. Until he got married.
‘The day I got married, it changed, because it was no longer just about me. And now that I’m a dad, I want to leave good memories of me out there. I don’t want people to talk about me in a bad way. For me it’s more about being a better person and setting an example, and being somebody kids can look up to.
‘I’m trying to set an example for young kids. There are certain things you can’t do on the golf course in front of youngsters. It’s about the attitude now and the way I go about my business on Tour.
‘My caddie, Sam, also plays a big role in my life. He has helped me understand the game and how to go about my business – how to be a professional golfer and act like one. Things like treating everyone around you with the same respect. Being on Tour teaches you to be a man and how to be a true professional.
‘I received a great compliment when I played with Toby Tree during the Eye of Africa PGA Championship. His girlfriend came to me and said she was impressed with how professional I was on the golf course and my body language, even though I wasn’t playing my best golf.’
Davidse believes becoming a husband and then a father has had a twofold effect on him.
‘I have a structure at home now – my son, my wife. Becoming a father is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m enjoying every moment of it. I love spending time with my son and watching him grow. He’s 11 months and already standing on his own. It’s an honour to be his dad and be an example for him.
‘I’m enjoying my golf a lot more. There is also a bit more pressure for me to perform because I have a family to provide for. But I feel like I belong on Tour now. It’s all about belief for me. If I believe I can do it, I can play to that level. Obviously I’m still waiting for the win. But I’ve got time. I’m just being patient.’
But there are obviously still those moments when the loss of his own father brings a return of that dull ache inside.
‘I have been watching a few videos of Tiger Woods and how he celebrated with his dad, and it’s emotional for me. I wish my dad could be here to celebrate with
me, even though I haven’t won yet. But just to walk the fairways with me.’
Davidse is fortunate to still have good men around him. Perhaps the closest, and someone he refers to as his brother, even though they aren’t related, is the journalist Eben Jansen, who he also credits with playing a role in his current rise.
‘He grew up in front of my father and he’s since taken me me under his wing. He’s a good role model for me. I learn a lot from him. We’re not related but we’re
as close as brothers. We talk every day on the phone.
‘About two years ago I had a discussion with Eben. He said, “You’ve been paying your greenfees the past eight years and you’re done studying.” I decided then that I needed to man up, start playing better and enjoy myself.
‘I feel comfortable on Tour now and am enjoying it more. When I started on Tour I’d see other pros practising for three or four hours a day at the tournaments. I’d rather prepare and do all the hard work at home before the tournament. I like to play different and tough courses, similar to the ones on Tour.
‘So I’m in a good space. I’m very excited.I don’t want to play the Sunshine Tour my whole life. I have plans to go to the Asian Tour or Europe or America. It’s just about patience. I can feel the win is close. If I can just get more consistency, I’ll definitely win.’
Those who know him best, seeing him now as a devoted husband and father, would perhaps suggest that Brian Davidse would’ve said the waiting is over and that his son, Keenan, is now every bit the man he wanted him to be.
2009 – Vodacom Business – Selborne (T2nd), Vodacom Business – Pretoria CC (T4th)
2010 – Vodacom Business – Stellenbosch (T4th)
2012 – Lion of Africa Cape Town Open (T5th)
2014 – Vodacom Origins – Arabella Par 3 (1st), Vodacom Origins – Euphoria Par 3 (T3rd)
2017 – Joburg Open (T7th), Zambia Open (T5th), Vodacom Origins – Arabella (T2nd), Vodacom Origins – Zimbali (4th), Vodacom Origins of Golf final (T4th)
2018 – Cape Town Open (T3rd)
– This article first appeared in the April issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale!