Some of the biggest names in golf cut their teeth on the Sunshine Tour from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. Here is a look at some of the top international players who won on the local Tour before going on to win a Major, writes BRENDAN BARRATT.
Back in 1993, Singh was really starting to make a name for himself – and for the right reasons, too. The Fijian had already collected four titles on the European Tour but ever the keen traveller and certified golfaholic, he also enjoyed regular visits to the African continent. He won the 1993 Bell’s Cup and in 1997 he won the first co-sanctioned South African Open Championship for his seventh European Tour title, beating Nick Price by a stroke at Glendower.
Irwin was already a US Open champion when he captured the Lexington PGA Championship – one of the Sunshine Tour’s flagship events – by a stroke over Hugh Baiocchi, Mark McNulty and Robbie Stewart. That same year he also won the Australian PGA for a rather unique double, and of course he would win another two US Opens and seven senior Majors in his stellar career.
Faldo was a two-time European Tour winner and very fine prospect by the time he captured the 1979 ICL International, beating Allan Henning by two strokes. Few could have predicted just how remarkable a career the Englishman would go on to have – capturing six Major titles among 43 professional wins.
Trevino played a huge role in defining the Southern African golfing landscape, although he wouldn’t have known it at the time. Playing at the 1981 Sun City Classic – for a purse of $100 000 – it was the Merry Mex who came up with the idea of playing for a million-dollar purse. Golfing lore tells that Trevino pitched the idea to hotel magnate Sol Kerzner and the rest is million-dollar history. Unfortunately for him, it is one tournament he didn’t actually win.
It should come as no surprise that Zimbabwean Price cut his teeth on the Sunshine Tour. In fact, he has no fewer than 12 titles to his name, including the South African PGA Championship, the SA Masters and three Zimbabwean Open titles. He came close to winning the old ‘Grand Slam’ – finishing runner-up twice at the South African Open.
The American with the world-class moustache claimed his maiden professional title on the Sunshine Tour, just a year after joining the paid ranks. Pavin won the 1983 Lexington PGA Championship, edging Nick Price by a stroke, setting him up for a superb career that included 28 victories. Top of that pile is the 1995 US Open, played at Shinnecock Hills.
It may have been very early in his career when Daly made his way to the southern tip of Africa, but he certainly turned heads. Stories abound of the huge-hitting American who played a style of golf few had ever seen. It wasn’t all showmanship either, as ‘Long John’ could really play – and he backed up the swagger with wins at the AECI Charity Classic and the Royal Swazi Sun Classic. We can only imagine the parties that came afterwards.
We all know about Rose’s tribulations upon turning professional as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, where he made 23 missed cuts in a row. The South African-born Englishman turned things around in 2001, however, when he had consecutive runner-up finishes on the Sunshine Tour. The following year he’d go even better, claiming his maiden professional title at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and then annexing the Nashua Masters as well.
The Northern Irishman has been a regular visitor to these shores for years and a keen supporter of the Dimension Data Pro-Am. In 2001, Clarke edged Retief Goosen and Tjaart van der Walt for the DiData title – and 10 years later he would go on to lift the most famous trophy in golf, the Claret Jug. Clarke also co-designed the remarkable Pinnacle Point layout – one of South Africa’s finest and most dramatic courses.
In his rookie season as a professional, Scott edged Justin Rose by a stroke to win the Alfred Dunhill Championship, an event co-sanctioned on the European and Sunshine Tours. The Australian with the gorgeous swing shot 21 under par around Houghton and certainly announced himself as a star of the future.
The 1999 Open Championship winner came close to claiming a Sunshine Tour title when he lost a playoff to Mark Foster at the 2003 Dunhill Championship but he did finally get into the winner’s circle with a great victory at the 2017 Dimension Data Pro-Am at Fancourt.
– This article first appeared in the January 2024 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images