I was in Wellington recently for the Currie Cup First Division rugby final.
My co-commentator was Butch James, the well-known Springbok World Cup winner from 2007, who still insists that his finest sporting achievement was batting above Kevin Pietersen for Maritzburg College. With some time to spare before kick-off, Butch said we should check in on the British Amateur golf final and he brought up the live feed on his phone.
‘Ah yes,’ I said, ‘Christo Lamprecht’s in the final. Do you know him?’
‘No,’ said Butch, ‘but I know his opponent.’
That threw me, since Ronan Kleu was playing under the Swiss flag, but it turns out that he’s far more South African than Roger Federer, the rather more famous Swiss sportsman we claim as our own. Federer has a South African mother but was born in Basel and only spent six years in Mzansi. Kleu, on the other hand, is the real deal, as he told me when I made contact with him.
He said, ‘All of my family (mom, Delia, dad, Patrick, sister, grandparents, etc) are originally South African. I, too, was born in Kyalami, Joburg, in 2000 before we moved to Switzerland based on my dad’s work in 2001. I spent approximately seven years in Switzerland before we headed back to South Africa from 2008 until 2010. We lived on the North Coast in Ballito on the Simbithi golf estate.
‘Simbithi is a short, fun par-60 course and that’s where I really started playing and fell in love with the game of golf. I played a bunch there and in the surrounding areas with my dad, before or after school and also a bunch on the South Coast with my granddad (Southbroom, Port Shepstone, Margate).
‘We then moved back to Switzerland where I was taken up into the regional squad and the federation there has been extremely supportive of my golfing career so far. I therefore say that I am truly 50/50 Swiss/South African, playing under the Swiss flag after all their support in the international game, with a love for both countries.’
And the South African connections don’t end there. When Ronan finished high school in 2018, Durban-based Sunshine Tour pro Rourke van der Spuy made a phone call to the coach of his old alma mater, Columbus State University, recommending Ronan.
The coach in question was also South African, none other than Mark Immelman. From there, Ronan transferred to the University of Iowa where he played NCAA Division One.
Having graduated he headed back to Switzerland and then turned up at Hillside Golf Club in Southport to play for one of the oldest trophies in golf. ‘What a week that was at The Amateur Championship. I had a fun time battling against Christo,’ he said.
So, as it turns out, the headline writers would have had their ‘three South Africans in six years take the title’, whichever man prevailed. And while it’s onwards and upwards to the professional ranks for Lamprecht, following his 3 & 2 win, Kleu’s career is now on hold for a reason familiar to South Africans of a certain age: he’s doing National Service in the Swiss Army.
– This column first appeared in the August 2023 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.