One point, one point, one point.
A perfect kicking record by Handre Pollard, missed kicks at goal by France, England, New Zealand. The bounce of the ball, the shrill of the referee’s whistle. All of which culminated in the Springboks winning the Rugby World Cup for the fourth time. And the rest, as they say, is hysteria.
Such are the fine lines which operate at the sharp end of elite sport. Amid all the celebrations of the Springboks coming back from France with the Webb Ellis Cup, we have to acknowledge that there were elements of brilliance – think Cheslin Kolbe’s conversion charge-down – as well as good fortune which paved the way for the historic win.
It could have easily gone the other way. In fact, had you asked the bookies if you could place a bet on the Boks winning the quarter-final, semi-final and final all by one point you no doubt would have been tested for substance abuse.
We will take every slice of fortune we get in a country that struggles for good news. Almost on cue after the Boks beat the All Blacks, loadshedding returned and the finance minister delivered a depressing mid-term budget in parliament. And, the rand sinks by the day. Slowly perhaps, but it sinks.
Thank goodness for sport, hey?
South African golf needs a few more good-news stories. Sure, we have plenty already, but you know, the big ones – the Majors, more DP World Tour wins, more PGA Tour successes.
Ashleigh Buhai broke a 10-year drought of a South African not winning a Major when she won the Women’s British Open last year. Before that, Ernie Els had won the 2012 Open Championship, Charl Schwartzel the 2011 Masters, Louis Oosthuizen the 2010 Open and Trevor Immelman the 2008 Masters.
We were getting used to Major success. We even saw Brandon Stone putt for a 59 on the final green of the 2018 Scottish Open which, had it sunk, would have been the first sub-60 round in European Tour/DP World Tour history. Where the Boks won three playoff matches by one point, Stone missed out on a 59 by one shot, on the 72nd hole. Those fine margins.
The currency of golf is winning.
South Africa signed off 2023 with four wins on the DP World Tour – Thriston Lawrence and Ockie Strydom with two each – which is one more than the three from 2022. Not quite as many as the five of 2021, but it’s worth remembering that two of those wins were from Justin Harding and Dean Burmester, both of whom crossed over to LIV Golf.
So too did Oosthuizen, Grace and Schwartzel, of course, which certainly weakened South Africa’s hand when it came to Major championship contenders. Despite the continued brilliant talent which steps off the Sunshine Tour’s conveyer belt, LIV Golf has had an effect on the men’s game.
In the amateurs, we’re probably at one of the richest periods in history. Christo Lamprecht became the third South African to win the British Amateur in the last four times there’s been a South African representative, which shows the system is thriving. But, with golf competing with the likes of rugby, cricket, soccer and netball, the media and public have taken their eyes off the sport, compared to a decade or so ago.
Plus, golf now also needs to compete with hand-held screen devices. English Premier League, F1 and UFC are all at the fingertips of those who want to ‘stream events’, while LIV Golf, while not having a major share of golf’s audience, has served to dilute the men’s side of golf in terms of audience.
The way to change that is for South Africa to start winning men’s Majors again. We know that the time will come, because there are any number of emerging players capable of doing so. What we don’t know is when.
– This column first appeared in the December 2023 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.
Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images