There’s a good deal of confidence among the South African contingent of golfers in Scotland ahead of this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
‘I do feel the game is pretty sharp in spite of the jet lag,’ said Branden Grace after flying in from New Jersey, where he competed in the Presidents Cup.
In spite of the Internationals losing by a wide margin to the Americans, the 29-year-old Grace did well to halve with world No 1 Dustin Johnson in the last day singles.
‘There was a lot of pressure in the Presidents Cup, but this week is more relaxing,’ said the Fancourt professional. ‘My amateur partner for the separate pro-am is tournament host Johann Rupert and it’s always fun playing alongside him.’
In July, Grace stunned golf fans around the world when he became the first player in history to shoot a 62 in a men’s major championship with an eight-under third round of the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England.
But he has gone even lower in Scotland.
The international champion loves and is very much at home playing Scottish links golf, and won this tournament in 2012 when he shot a fabulous 12-under-par 60 in the first round at Kingsbarns, before completing the victory over the Carnoustie and St Andrews courses.
‘I get goosebumps every time I come back to St Andrews, because the Home of Golf is such a special place,’ he said. ‘I hope I can play some special golf this week.’
In Thursday’s first round at St Andrews, Grace and Rupert are paired with Rory McIlroy and his father Gerry, a group certain to command plenty of attention from the enthusiastic Scottish golf fans.
Meanwhile, 24-year-old compatriot Brandon Stone feels his game is getting back to peak form after missing eight cuts in 20 starts on the European Tour in the 2017 season, although this run did include one win – in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
Last year, aided by his win in the 2016 South African Open, Stone topped the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit with R7-million in prize money, and was selected for South Africa’s first Olympic golf team.
Can he win this week?
‘For sure I’ve got a chance; my game is getting back to its best and it just needs a flip of a switch that I’ve been waiting for,’ said Stone.
Haydn Porteous, another 23-year-old South African, is also looking for a good week, following his maiden win on the European Tour in the Czech Masters five weeks ago. And that also goes for Dylan Frittelli, who broke through for his first victory in Europe this season in the Nordea Masters.
Richard Sterne was joint second here last year behind England’s Tyrrell Hatton, and will be hoping to go one better this time, while George Coetzee has been enjoying a productive stretch after a weight loss and get-fit campaign.
And then there’s Ernie Els, who turns 48 this month, but still feels that there’s a win inside of him.