Dean Burmester will play in the first three-ball teeing off at the WGC-HSBC Champions on Thursday morning, where 78 of the world’s best will compete for a share of $9.25-million. It’s a monumental achievement by a golfer who played on the developmental Big Easy Tour five years ago.
The big-hitting Zimbabwean, who became a South African when he moved to Bloemfontein, has come a long way since hitting balls at Schoeman Park Golf Club in the Free State.
Burmester got his card for the 2010 Sunshine Tour, but struggled through the season and lost his playing rights. He was forced to compete on the Big Easy Tour in 2011 and on that sub-circuit he posted three runner-up results, including a tie for second at the Tour Championship. His career was back on track.
The 27-year-old returned to the Sunshine Tour in 2012 and recorded four top-five results to end the season at 42nd on the Order of Merit, which meant Qualifying School was a thing of the past.
The following year was crucial for the development of Burmester’s career. He shared third place at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, a big-money event on the calendar, and then held off veteran Titch Moore for victory at the Polokwane Classic.
Burmester had settled into life on tour and in 2014 he won a second trophy at the Sun City Challenge in August, despite not playing to his obvious potential. He closed out the season by making seven cuts in a row and headed into 2015 as one to watch.
Recently married and with a child on the way, Burmester wasted no time in the new year and posted top 20s at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, Joburg Open and Africa Open. Those days in contention did more for his confidence than any amount of time on the range could and he began a streak that few Sunshine Tour golfers achieve in their careers.
It started with a tied-third finish at the Tshwane Open in March, followed by tied-eighth result at the Investec Cup and then a win at the Zimbabwe Open.
He was ninth at the Zambia Sugar Open, 20th at the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open (his first time outside the top 20 in nine starts) and then won the Lombard Insurance Classic on a record 23-under-par total. At the time of his victory he hadn’t missed a cut since November of the previous year.
‘This is a fantastic breeding ground for South African golf,’ he said, trophy in hand. ‘Every time you have a victory it secures your place on tour. In world golf people notice when you win tournaments, and it helps you get overseas and move on to bigger things.’
He played abroad and learned about the time and effort that goes into European Tour success. ‘The time those guys spend on their short game is unreal,’ he said upon his return to SA in August, when he shared fourth place at the Sun City Challenge.
Burmester got back into the winners’ circle in his hometown of Bloemfontein at the Sun Windmill Challenge in September, and won again at the Origins of Golf Koro Creek a month later.
He closed out the season with a top-five result at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and came fourth on the 2015 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, which earned him a spot at this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions.
This season Burmester has been similarly impressive in South Africa, finishing second at the Dimension Data Pro-Am and the Eye of Africa PGA Championship. He was third at the Investec Cup in March and won the points race, which gave him a cool R4-million bonus to settle the nerves before heading abroad.
Burmester is based primarily on the European Tour now, where he’s made eight cuts in his last 13 starts, but he came back to South Africa for the Origins of Golf Euphoria last week and tied for eighth place. Then he jetted off to play in a World Golf Championship event, competing against a few bigger names than last week in Limpopo.
The young star has learned to mix it with top-tier golfers, but when he tees up on Thursday morning it may feel like a lifetime since his days on the Big Easy Tour. Considering how far he’s come, who knows how far he’ll go?