Brandon Stone might not have playing status on major golf tour yet, but the way he’s making waves in this week’s Joburg Open, it won’t be too long before he’s a regular on the European Tour.
Stone turns 21 on April 20, and he’s looking likely to be successful sooner rather than later in his quest to earn his playing privileges without having to go through the agonies of making his way through a qualifying school.
In his defence, he did try to get through the European Tour’s Qualifying School last December in Spain, but he didn’t win his card there.
Now, he finds himself in contention in the Joburg Open being played at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club – a tournament he is playing by special invitation, just as he has played during the 11 events on the European Tour he has played since he turned professional last June.
“I’m loving life on the European Tour,” he said. “It’s an absolute blast having the opportunity given to me by my management company and being able to play at home is really special. Playing courses like this and at East London helps me to feel a little more settled than I would if I was abroad.
“But traveling abroad has been good – I’ve been to countries like Kazakhstan, Finland, Norway – which have been amazing experiences. I’m looking forward to this year ahead.”
His boundless enthusiasm brought him extraordinary success in his first tournament as a professional: He shared 10th in the BMW International Open in Germany, and would have been forgiven for thinking he had already arrived.
But he missed his next two cuts, as golf did its usual trick of cutting someone down to size. “I think that first top-10 was a shock to the system, because I’d grown up idolizing these players. To go out in your first tournament and beat so many of them is a surprise.
“Missing those cuts later on was good for me, it made me work even harder at my game. Over the past two months I’ve been grinding at my game and working on the things that you need in order to compete in this format,” he said.
Now, without status, he has to chase wins to get himself exempt. But he’s approaching that quest in a level-headed way too. “I definitely wouldn’t say that I’m pushing for it,” he said. “If you are playing the right game then it will happen by itself, there is no reason to force the issue. That’s something my dad has instilled in me from a young age is to not try to force the issue. You just have to play your game, hit your shots and it will come to you.
“I’m in the very fortunate position that IMG have the pull that they do around the world and have been able to get me into tournaments like Qatar, Abu Dhabi, the Alfred Dunhill Links. Without those opportunities I wouldn’t be at the level that I am now and be competing at this week.”
For the weekend in the Joburg Open, he will have to keep his head, too. “I’m really looking forward to it and I reckon I can put myself really high up on that leaderboard,” he said. “I’m trying to get a good result this week, but victory is a distant thought right now. Right now I need to focus on hitting that first fairway in the morning.”
He might not win this week, but it won’t be too long before he does.