• South Africa’s Major questions

    Ernie Els
    Els celebrates with the Claret Jug

    With each golfing Major that passes, the drought continues for South Africa.

    We’re starting to approach uncharted waters for a country used to so much success on the greens.

    The last South African to win a Major was Ernie Els, who picked up his second Open Championship when he won in 2012 at the age of 42. We’ve gone 22 Majors without a South African picking up one of the four
    big ones on offer each year.

    Els’ victory was the third year in succession a South African had won a Major. In 2011 Charl Schwartzel came through with an unforgettable birdie blitz to win The Masters, while in 2010 Louis Oosthuizen had produced one of the great displays of front-running to win The Open.

    Just three years earlier, in 2008, Trevor Immelman had been a surprise winner of The Masters and four years before that, Retief Goosen won his second US Open. In 2002 Els had won his first Open Championship and in 2001 Goosen picked up his first US Open. Four years before that, Els also won the US Open, something he had done three years before that too.

    From 1978, after Gary Player’s Masters triumph – the ninth Major of his career – to 1994 when Els won, it had been a bleak time for South African golf. Sure, there was a lot going on and the Sunshine Tour was producing top players and characters, but ultimately it’s the Majors that get the juices flowing.

    South Africa’s drought of 22 Majors spanning six years is the longest we have waited since that gap between Player and Els, which effectively became a changing of the generations, with Player passing on the mantle to Els.

    It’s true that golf is a more ‘international’ game than it used to be and it is tough enough winning an event on the PGA Tour, let alone a Major, so perhaps we have been spoiled in the past.

    The depth is so strong in men’s golf that of the last 10 Majors, nine have been first-time champions, while the 10th, Jordan Spieth, won his first Major in 2015 and was picking up what was already his third, at the 2017 Open Championship.

    According to the World Ranking, Branden Grace, Oosthuizen, Schwartzel and Dylan Frittelli are next in line to bring the joy back to South Africa. Grace and Oosthuizen have come close in recent times and it’s also true that a lot of luck is involved in winning a Major.

    It’s not going to get any easier as the Majors come and go. So many players in their twenties are making their presence felt and playing with a fearlessness that comes with youth. However, the Sunshine Tour provides such a good grounding for our own professionals, who gravitate naturally to the European Tour and the world stage.

    So, while the odds would appear to be increasingly against a South African riding to the rescue, history and the ongoing strength of our Tour suggests there’s nothing to be despondent about when it comes to Major success.

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

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