Any victory would do. But in the mind of Thomas Aiken, a win in this week’s Telkom PGA Championship would be particularly significant.
Aiken heads to Country Club Johannesburg hoping to turn a solid run of form into what would be the biggest victory of his career in South Africa’s second oldest professional tournament.
And it’s the pedigree of the Telkom PGA Championship that will resonate so strongly with Aiken, who is passionate about the history of the game and South Africa’s place therein.
There is no doubt that he is due a big win soon. Aiken has finished in the top 15 in six of the seven tournaments he’s played this year, the highlights of which were third in the Joburg Open, sixth in the Qatar Masters and seventh in the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour.
His remarkable consistency has lifted him into seventh place on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai rankings, as well as a career high of 90th on the world rankings.
Aiken has come close to winning the Telkom PGA Championship before, finishing second in 2006 and fourth in 2009. Last year he was 12th behind champion Michiel Bothma.
Aiken has long been considered one of the young stars of South African golf, and is well aware of the pressure on him to start winning the big events in the same fashion as his peers such as Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
But Aiken has always been somewhat of a late bloomer. When he turned professional in 2002 following a glittering amateur career in which he was named Amateur of the Year in 2001, Aiken immediately left these shores for the tough school of the European Challenge Tour.
It was a steep learning curve and one he didn’t adjust to easily. So he returned home in 2004 to play the Sunshine Tour. That year he broke through with three victories, setting a record by winning three of the six tournaments on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series. It’s a record that has only ever been equalled but never broken.
The following year Aiken won twice on the Sunshine Tour and won the winter series’ Order of Merit.
In 2007 he again tried his hand on an overseas tour and competed on the Nationwide Tour in America, but without success.
But in 2008 he qualified for the European Tour, and came close to a maiden victory a year later when he led the Alfred Dunhill Championship going into the final round – thanks to a brilliant third round of 61 – only to finish fourth.
In 2009, Aiken crystalised his potential with a finish of tied eighth in the Open Championship at Turnberry and then tied seventh in the World Golf Championships-CA Championship against world-class fields. And several other top tens that year proved, in his own mind at least, his ability to contend at the highest level of the game.
And if he does take his place in South African golf history this week, the blank cap where he hopes a sponsor will see value in one of the most consistent performers in the local game will surely become history itself.