Two years ago Haydn Porteous, then a promising 19-year-old, made double bogey on the 17th hole at Lost City Golf Course and gave up his lead at the Sun City Challenge. He lost by one stroke to Dean Burmester.
This week the Sunshine Tour returns to the North West Province, but Porteous won’t be there. Instead, he’ll compete at the Paul Lawrie Match Play, under the category of European Tour winner.
The local circuit doesn’t always teach future stars how to win, but it does show them what it takes to succeed as a professional.
There are thousands of scratch handicappers in South Africa and each year hundreds of them go to Bloemfontein to get their tour card at qualifying school. 30 players make it, and so begins the grind.
None of those golfers are ordinary. They were the cream of the sporting crop at school, top competitors who were ooh-ed and ah-ed from a young age. Becoming average is tough for them, and most go through that transition while playing their rookie season.
Hard work and more hard work are the decisive factors in professional golf. Compleat Golfer’s past editor, Brendan Barrett, tells a story of playing at Royal Portrush when it was pouring with rain. He went for a brief warmup and found a lone figure on the end of the range. It was Darren Clarke hitting punch shots into the breeze. One of golf’s most jovial characters was grinding in unimaginable conditions, because that’s what professionals do.
Starry-eyed youths, who believe they could be the next Tiger Woods, encounter a steep learning curve when they get on tour, but the smart ones take notes and get better.
Campaigning on the Sunshine Tour is a no-brainer for South African hopefuls. Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, and Branden Grace all served their time and the tour’s catch phrase ‘It begins here’ is a true reflection of what’s on offer. It’s a route to the big time.
Earlier this year Porteous, on his way to victory at the Joburg Open, made par at the 17th hole of Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club. He’d learnt his lesson in 2014 and wasn’t going to be runner-up again.
Players are unlikely to make global headlines at the Sun City Challenge this week, but a handful of them will compete on the international stage in years to come. One of their greatest weapons will be experience.