• Friends for Life

    Friends for Life
    AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 08: Branden Grace of South Africa and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa stand on the green during a practice round prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

    The first time I ever met Denis Hutchinson was apparently at the end of 1952, when I was six months old.

    He visited Zwartkop and my mother was sitting on a bench outside my dad’s golf shop and Hutch looked down at me in my carrycot.

    “It must have been a very big carrycot,” he said several years later, adding that when he saw my face, he knew I was going to give him trouble for the rest of his life.

    “I should have reached down, put my fingers around his neck and strangled the little bugger,” Hutch often says. “You know, even his mother would have been happier!”

    Well, it’s now 63 years later and I’m proud that Hutchie is still one of my great friends.

    I started playing in the Junior Golf Foundation tournaments when I was nine or 10 years old. The stars of junior golf at that time were Bobby Cole and Hugh Baiocchi.

    Bobby is the only South African to have won the British Amateur, which he did at just 18. Bobby’s swing was a thing of beauty and was the equal of today’s stars Louis Oosthuizen and Richard Sterne.

    Although Bobby won on the US Tour and won the World Cup of Golf for SA, as well as another dozen or so Sunshine Tour events, he never achieved the levels that were expected. Hugh was a terrific amateur who played most of his golf in Europe after he turned pro.

    Almost all junior tournaments were 36 holes and took place midweek all over Gauteng, and all the other regions of South Africa had the same programme going. The Junior Foundation was started up by Greg Smith’s father (I am still friends with Greg today), and the Nomads, which was led by Mike Florence in the very early ’60s.

    The events in our region were organised by the Veale family and the Lagerways, whose two sons both represented South Africa as junior golfers. There were hundreds of other mothers and fathers who got involved though, and helped to put on tournaments from Springs right through to Polokwane. Others that stand out in my mind were Vernon Dickson, who ran the WP Junior Foundation, and more recently Bill Smith and Anne Rycraft.

    These are the people who moulded the stars of SA golf. Many put in every minute of their spare time into the Foundation and South African golf would not have produced the champions that we have had without each one of them. In fact, there is not one single South African champion who didn’t get his start in the game through these junior tournaments.

    In those early days my friends in junior golf were Robbie Chapman, Gary Baleson, Dennis Bruyns, Selwyn Nathan, Trevor Lagerway, Gus Bonini, Louis Peens and Athol Dowie, among many others. Barring Robbie Chapman and Trevor Lagerway, who have passed away, I still see all the others and still call them my friends.

    On tours we would meet the guys from the other provinces like Kevin Suddards and Glen Jones from Natal, Mike Hargreaves from the Eastern Cape, John Mitchell from George and Capetonians Ray Joubert and Butch Green. Even Tertius Claassens came down from Namibia to play in the South African tournaments, and some of the other big events.

    Gary Baleson was incredibly long with his irons. He would always take at least one club less than any of us. Gary eventually became a pro golfer while his brothers were professional tennis players and his father was a trumpet player in a band. How’s that for a variety of talent?

    Selwyn Nathan wore the first pair of two-tone golf shoes in junior golf. He also arrived at one tournament with these long multi-coloured pegs that we’d never seen before. Nate would arrive at the tournament in an MGB GT, have the best bag and the best clubs, and he could play. Then, like now, Nate was a leader.

    Easily the two best really young golfers in South Africa were Robbie Chapman and Phil Jonas. Between the age of 10 and 14, Robbie was phenomenal and Phil’s golf was top-pro standard at the age of 15. He actually led a pro tournament at around that age, a tournament that all of us were playing in, including Gary Player. Unfortunately Robbie and Phil both lost their short game at a very early age and with it, their confidence. Phil still plays a little senior tour golf.

    Dennis Bruyns was another very talented young golfer. At the age of 15, Dennis broke the course record at Windsor Park Golf Club in Durban with a 65 in the Slazenger Junior. At my home course, Zwartkop, we played the Northern Transvaal Junior and I shot two 69s and lost to Dennis easily. What made it worse was that he was in the middle of reading an interesting book, so if there was a hold-up, he’d bring out the book.

    Many great memories and many great friends.

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