The drought is real. There have been 33 men’s Majors played since a South African last lifted one of golf’s big prizes. It was Ernie Els, then aged 42, who was handed the Claret Jug for a second time when he won The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes. BY GARRY LEMKE.
Since then there have been some close misses, such as Louis Oosthuizen at the 2015 US Open and the 2017 PGA Championship.
While the hits keep on coming on the European Tour – we have to go back to 1990 for the last barren year by a South African – victories on the PGA Tour are now rarer. In fact, between 2000 and 2009 there were 23 wins for South Africa on the PGA Tour but in the past 10 years there have been only seven.
The last time a South African won on the PGA Tour was Dylan Frittelli at the 2019 John Deere Classic, but when it comes to the Majors, things are even more challenging.
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There were 62 Majors played between Gary Player’s 1978 Masters win and Els’ US Open victory in 1994, but that’s when South Africans were spoilt by success. Els, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel all collected Major titles, which made it look all too easy.
Whenever we made our selections before a Major we put a South African up there in the predictions, but we’re now going on nine years without a win.
That’s not to say we haven’t produced golfers capable of winning a Major. When Hideki Matsuyama sank his final putt at Augusta he became the first Japanese male to win a Major. That again highlights how spoilt with success we South Africans were.
The Sunshine Tour is regarded as one of the great conveyor belts of golfing champions and in the past two years alone, which includes a disrupted calendar due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the likes of Oosthuizen, Justin Harding, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Erik van Rooyen, Branden Grace, George Coetzee, Garrick Higgo and Danie van Tonder have all tasted success on the European Tour.
Globally, South Africa is regarded as a breeding ground of champions, but winning is tougher than it has ever been. Golf has come forward so dramatically over the past few years that someone like Rory McIlroy is still waiting to add to his four Majors. His last Major win came at the 2014 PGA Championship. That’s how tough winning a Major is.
So, while we acknowledge the drought, we need to realise how blessed we were in previous decades and accept that it’s tougher than ever to win one of the four on offer for the men each year.
As the great Ernie told the 2019 class at the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation, ‘I got lucky’. Mouths opened in disbelief. ‘Yes, I got lucky. There are great players and potential great players among you who won’t get as lucky. That’s why I always drum home the importance of an education. Go study, get a degree. Have something to fall back on if it doesn’t work out how you hope it will in golf. This is a brutal game, winning isn’t easy or a given. We all need luck on our side too.’
Els points to his nephew, Jovan Rebula, who won the 2018 British Amateur at the age of 20. ‘I have told him to avoid turning pro for as long as possible. I have told him how lucky I got and that he should work on his degree first, having something to fall back on if golf doesn’t turn out the way we hope it will. He has all the talent, but that’s no guarantee you’ll win a Major.’
Rebula has listened and he’s still at Auburn University, yet to turn pro. Which is a note to other amateurs in a hurry to turn pro. Listen to Ernie. There’s no rush.