Southern Africa continues to produce world-beating golfers, year after year. BRENDAN BARRATT lists the region’s best 20 golfers of all time.
With Ashleigh Buhai having recently broken a decade-long drought, we decided to see what the latest Top 20 of all-time Southern African great golfers looks like.
South Africa’s greatest golfer and arguably our best sportsperson, Player racked up nine Majors and another nine Senior Majors in his glorious career. A remarkable ambassador for the game and the country.
Courtesy of his 2012 Open Championship victory at Muirfield, Els leapfrogged Bobby Locke to become the second-best South African golfer of all time. Interestingly, both have four Majors and 74 professional victories to their name, but Els pips ‘Old Muffin Face’ courtesy of a Senior Major and having reached world No 1.
Who knows what Locke’s career would have looked like if it hadn’t been interrupted – first by World War II and then by a controversial banning from the PGA Tour. Locke was far and away the best player of his time in South Africa, winning just about every home event he entered. He was superb on the links courses of the Open too, winning four Claret Jugs and finishing runner-up twice. His great rivalry with Aussie Peter Thomson was as good as any in the history of golf.
Although born in South Africa, Price played under the Zimbabwean flag and was considered the best ball-striker of his generation. Wins outside of South Africa proved hard to come by in the early stages of his career, but once they did, the floodgates opened. Three Majors in two years, including the 1994 Open and PGA Championships led Price to the world No 1 position, which he held for a total of 44 weeks.
Goosen counts two US Opens and a Senior PGA Championship among his 38 professional victories, achieved on five continents. Having spent 250 weeks in the top 10 of the world ranking, Goosen also won the 2001 World Cup (with Els) and the 2004 Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Our greatest woman trailblazer, Little was, until very recently, the only lady golfer from South Africa to win a Major title. She left our shores in her teens and took on the world’s best on the LPGA Tour, winning a total of 15 tournaments, two of them Majors.
So often the nearly-man – he has finished runner-up in six Majors, including two playoff defeats – Oosthuizen has still recorded a remarkable career that includes the 2010 Open Championship among 14 professional wins.
The highlight of Schwartzel’s career is undoubtedly his 2011 Masters win, but we shouldn’t forget that he has racked up 11 European Tour wins, many of them on South African soil. His recent LIV Golf win showed that there is still plenty of life in the 38-year-old’s career.
Reigning Women’s Open champion Buhai was on the verge of becoming a cautionary tale about early promise being no guarantee of success when she delivered on the greatest stage of them all at Muirfield in July.
What a player McNulty was: the Zimbabwean posted 59 professional wins in his glittering career, with 33 of them coming on the Sunshine Tour, where he won the Order of Merit a record nine times. Considered one of the all-time great putters, McNulty didn’t quite have the firepower to contend in Majors, although he did claim a Senior Major – the 2007 Tradition.
Wins on the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, Sunshine Tour, Korn Ferry Tour, Challenge Tour and a winner of the World Cup, Nedbank Golf Challenge and SA Open (twice). Oh, and how can we forget that Masters victory in 2008?
‘The Horse’ collected 41 pro wins in a handy career that would have been even more successful had he not been playing at the same time as a certain Gary Player – with whom he partnered to success in the 1965 Canada Cup.
A superb player who won 10 times on the PGA Tour, including a WGC event. Later in life, Frost won six times on the Champions Tour, including a Senior Major.
Although injury cut his career short, Clark won all across the world, including the SA Open (twice), the Australian Open, the Scottish Open and The Players Championship.
A six-time winner on the PGA Tour and a World Cup winner with Trevor Immelman – although he now plays under the Slovakian flag, for whom he won an Olympic silver medal.
Pace is an 11-time Ladies European Tour winner and has also claimed a victory on the LPGA Tour. Not to mention the 14 titles she has accumulated on the Sunshine Ladies Tour.
Brews was the country’s first great international player and racked up 32 professional wins across the world. At home he was a force to be reckoned with, winning the SA Open eight times – the last one aged 53 – and the SA PGA on six occasions.
Another South African who has moved across to the LIV Golf Tour, Grace has a formidable playing resume, including two PGA Tour wins, nine DP World Tour victories, six Sunshine Tour titles and, recently, a LIV win. He also holds the record for the lowest round in a major, scoring 62 in the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale.
An underrated talent, Hayes burst onto the scene as a teenager when he won the World Junior Championship in 1969. In all, he recorded 22 professional wins, including the SA Open, the SA PGA (three times), the World Cup and the European Tour Order of Merit in 1975.
The third Zimbabwean on the list, Johnstone notched up six European Tour wins, 17 Sunshine Tour wins and two victories on the European Senior Tour.
- Hugh Baiocchi
- John Bland
- Fulton Allem
- Richard Sterne
- Bobby Cole
- Cobie Legrange
- George Coetzee
– This article first appeared in the November 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.