Branden and George – the new wave

They broke into the world’s top 300 on this week’s Official World Golf Rankings after their compelling duel in the Telkom PGA Championship, and the rivalry between George Coetzee and Branden Grace will propel their careers further yet.

Coetzee triumphed with his final-round 64, while Grace endured the frustration of a pair of bogeys on the homeward nine and finished third behind Neil Schietekat.

It was a fifth Sunshine Tour victory for Coetzee, 24, and Grace, who is 22, has won once – and they have both been in contention throughout the first few tournaments of the 2011 season. Each has three top-10 finishes, while Coetzee’s worst finish was 71st in the Africa Open and Grace’s was a share of 14th in the Africom Zimbabwe Open.

What was eye-catching throughout the Telkom PGA Championship was the genuine affection the two rivals have for each other, while never conceding an inch as they slugged it out over the four days.

They were drawn together for the opening two rounds, and were not parted as they dominated the event from the opening shots.

And, while Coetzee rode his victory to a career-high 217 on the rankings, rising from 320 the previous week, Grace reached 290 from the previous week’s 331.

What the rivalry represents for the Sunshine Tour and South African golf in general is the emergence of the generation that will follow the likes of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel onto the world stage.

“George and I have been good friends since our junior and amateur days,” said Grace, “and of course I’m genuinely pleased for him that he won the tournament.

“But I wanted to win it too, and it’s not a good feeling when I lose –I’m sure that’s what Louis and Charl feel about each other’s successes, and they have been friends since their amateur days too,” he added.

For Grace, it’s a matter of urgency that he regains his eligibility to play on the European Tour.

“George and I talked about being on that tour, we travelled together, and now I have to get a good season on the Challenge Tour to get back to the way things were,” he said.

“If we’re in the same position, we can push each other,” he added.

And, while he is pleased with his rise in the rankings, it’s not the be-all and end-all of his plan for 2011. “If I play well, the ranking will take care of itself,” he said. “But I have a lot of confidence right now, because I have been playing well recently.”

So has Coetzee – and their names could be inextricably linked as South African golf celebrates continued international success in the future.

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