Putting remains the key aspect of winning a golf tournament. And that’s how it should be, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
WATCH: How Branden won the SA Open
The legendary Bobby Locke coined the phrase ‘Drive for show and putt for dough’ when he was playing at the peak of his powers in the United States.
Locke wasn’t particularly long off the tee – he favoured accuracy over distance – but he was a master on the greens, and a player who revolutionised putting by putting topspin on the ball with his putter to negate some of the breaks. Legend – or Wikipedia – has it that an Englishman taught him the skill during while stationed in Egypt during World War II.
Locke’s ability with the putter helped him achieve 74 wins worldwide, including 15 wins on the PGA Tour and four Open Championships. He also won nine SA Open titles, with his maiden victory coming as an amateur in 1935.
On Sunday, in the final round of the SA Open, Branden Grace put on a ‘Locke-esque’ performance on the greens en route to a spectacular 62 to win his maiden national title.
Grace has always had the ability to go low. At the 2018 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, he shot a record 62, the lowest-ever round in a major championship. But his ability to shoot the lights out when the mood strikes is mostly attributed to his shot-making.
He has traditionally done well at the US Open and the Open because of his ability to control the ball at wind-swept venues. The 31-year-old’s ball-striking is fantastic, and he has the capability to hit it very low off the tee or from the fairway. His putting, on the other hand, isn’t something that immediately comes to mind when you speak about the best parts of his game.
However, in one of the most exciting Sundays in the tournament’s history, Grace’s putter caught fire. He needed just 22 putts in the final round on his way to a victory. He just couldn’t miss and rattled off a staggering number of one-putts from the third hole.
Grace gained 7.2 shots on the field. A jaw-dropping number.
But, what makes this putting exhibition even more remarkable, is that his trusty driver went into hibernation during the round. Grace hit less than 30% of the fairways at Randpark Golf Club’s Firethorn layout. He was basically scrambling from the rough, and hitting some tremendous iron shots to give him a realistic chance of winning.
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His good friend Louis Oosthuizen, who led the tournament after 54 holes, hit almost 80% of the fairways in the final round but his putter was cold. He putted 12 more times than Grace on Sunday and made 17 two-putts, only managing one birdie on Sunday to go with his spectacular ace on the eighth.
But their contrasting performances off the tee and on the greens proved that golf tournaments are still won and lost with the flat stick. And that’s exactly how it should be in this so-called era of big hitters bullying golf courses.
Grace didn’t quite drive for show on Sunday, but he certainly did putt for the winner’s cheque of €175,296 (or in local terms R2,773,750). Oh, and his maiden SA Open title.