Last year Branden Grace ended a 10-year drought without a local winner at the Nedbank Golf Challenge and now he sets out trying to do it all over again.
It may not take that level of perfection this year, but Grace will be trying to hit all 18 greens in regulation in a single round again at some point in the Nedbank Golf Challenge as he goes about defending the title he so memorably won in 2017.
He got that feat right on his way to the title at Gary Player Country Club last year, when his 45-footer for birdie on the 16th saw him take the lead for the first time in the tournament and then hoist the iconic crystal trophy after being engulfed in a bear hug by Gary Player.
‘I played a tournament a couple of weeks ago,’ said Grace. ‘I think it was maybe the first time that I’ve hit 18 greens since then, as well. Every time I hit 18 greens now, I think of Sun City and the final round. I’ll take four rounds of that this time around, but I’m super excited to be back here, obviously. This is a tough week defending. It’s never easy, but I’ve done it before, so hopefully we can do it again.’
Grace will be up against the likes of former world No 1 Rory McIlroy in his title defence, as well as 2015 Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who won at Sun City in 2001 and 2003.
In addition to the big names, the field of 72 includes some of the best players on the European circuit as that tour gears up for its grand final in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next week and players scramble for a spot in that 60-man field.
Among those players are 10 other South Africans who, like Grace, dream of having their moment at a tournament dubbed ‘Africa’s Major’. They are Brandon Stone, Erik van Rooyen, Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester, George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken, Darren Fichardt, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Of course, Immelman won in 2007 ahead of his 2008 Masters triumph, but he has returned to some form this year after a lengthy battle and would love to win again.
Grace remembers the feeling well. ‘I can’t believe it’s 12 months already. Time flies! It was great,’ he said.
‘It was one of those moments in your career you’ll never forget – almost a life-changing moment, winning South Africa’s biggest event. It was great winning a tournament you grow up watching. To see some of the names of legends of the game on the trophy as well, it’s great.’
To repeat, Grace knows that his feat of hitting all 18 greens in the last round last year is part of the recipe for success again.
‘The thing about this place, you have to keep it in the fairways,’ he said. ‘The greens are pretty small as well. So if you can give yourself chances in the fairways getting to the greens, then you’re going to do pretty well out here.’