The taste of victory generally keeps one coming back for more, and, with nine former champions in the field, this week’s South African Open Championship hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni is no exception.
Some esteemed names make up the contingent to have their names engraved on the famous old trophy, including multiple winners such as Gary Player, Bobby Locke, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
Yet one of the most fascinating groupings of all on day one saw two of the oldest former champions in the field playing together; namely American Charlie Bolling (1983) and Namibia’s Trevor Dodds (1990).
Bolling may well be the more obscure name of the two in the eyes of South African fans, and, at 57, he is the oldest player to be pegging it up at Glendower this week. The Blue Devil graduate turned pro in 1981, and after missing out on a PGA Tour card for the first two years of his tenure as a professional, decided to ply his trade in South Africa and Asia.
The SA Open was his big breakthrough, and he went on to finish third in the Order of Merit that year. It provided the springboard his career needed, and he went on to get his PGA Tour card in 1985. After retaining his card successfully each year thereafter, a broken arm from a non-golfing accident in 1988 all but curtailed his career. He was never quite able to regain his form again, and, as a man who’d appeared in four US Opens and three British Opens, he was forced to look to other pastures, taking up a job as a club pro.
However, after turning to private teaching four years ago, he decided to give Senior golf a go, and his career has enjoyed something of a renaissance since. He has spent time on the European Senior Tour with some degree of success, and has also played in two Senior British Opens and a US Senior Open.
Yet for Bolling, this week undoubtedly represents a return to the place where it all began.
“I got the opportunity to play because I’m on my way to New Zealand on business,” he said. “I won at Royal Cape, but I love this course, even though it’s beating me up. I’ll always remember winning the SA Open, and this is a small way I can commemorate that.”
Dodds is arguably the better known of the duo, and boasts a fine pedigree as a professional. The Windhoek-born player has amassed a total of 15 career victories across four different tours, including a W on the PGA Tour when he held off Scott Verplank in a playoff at the 1998 Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic.
The 55-year old also clinched the Canadian Tour Order of Merit in both 1995 and 1996. But, like playing partner Bolling, it was the triumph in the world’s second-oldest national Open at Royal Cape 25 years ago that took his career to the next level. And even for a veteran of more than 300 PGA Tour events, this one understandably remains very special to him.
“It was great for me when the date was moved to January,” he said. “It meant I was able to find time in my schedule to get here, and it gave me a chance to hook up with friends I haven’t seen in 10 years or more.
“I love this course, and the chance to play in the tournament which I really love was too good to miss,” he added.