He spent many of his formative golfing years on the fairways of The Els Club Copperleaf, but after his opening six-under-par 66 in the BMW International Open in Munich, Brandon Stone was looking forward to a few laughs with his idol.
Stone, making his professional debut, found himself three shots off the hot pace set by Ernie Els as the Open champion blazed to a nine-under-par 63.
“I haven’t seen Ernie yet, but I’ll have a chat to him this afternoon, and we’ll have a few jokes,” said Stone of the man who is good friends with his father Kevin, a 10-time winner on the Sunshine Tour. “He played phenomenal golf. To see your golfing idol making birdies like that really motivated me a little more.”
Not that Stone’s first round as a professional was too shabby. “It was fantastic. You always want to get off to a good start, and you could say today was the best start,” he said. “There were a few shots I left out there, but I felt like I played really good golf today. I hit a lot of fantastic shots, and coming in I didn't miss a shot for the last three or four holes.”
While there were no signs of nerves, he admitted to a little shakiness on his first tee. “It was actually pretty funny, because when I stood on the first tee in the practice round, I thought it was a three-wood off the tee and I got on the tee box today, and I thought, ‘Maybe I should hit driver, take a little bit bigger club.’
“So obviously I got the butterflies in the stomach and it was a little bit emotional for me. But I hit that first tee shot with a three-wood down the middle of the fairway, and that whole burden on my shoulders just collapsed. I felt so comfortable the whole day and Gary [du Plooy] on my bag really helped settle the nerves,” he said.
“I’ve been thinking about this round for the last six weeks. I’ve been eager for it, and to have a debut like that is something special and I'll remember it for the rest of my life,” he continued. “I just came out here to have some fun. I have been playing good golf. I finished tied for second in the NCAA Championship, but it’s been two weeks since I had a competitive round, so you don’t quite know how you’re playing, but after the first nine holes, I felt very comfortable.”
It’s been possible to be that comfortable, because so many of the South Africans on the European Tour have known him since he was a young boy. “James Kingston and Keith Horne played a practice round with me on Tuesday, and they made me feel at home already,” he said.
With that kind of comfort zone for him to operate in, he may well carry right on going low. “I’m going to go out there tomorrow and have a smile on my face like I did today and try and shoot a really low number.”