By Michael Vlismas and Mike Green
It was always going to be a special week. But Dawie van der Walt had no idea it would be this special. With a final round of 66 on Saturday, Van der Walt won the Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa.
And more than the title, the trophy, the cheque and the prestige, he will look with wonder at the portrait of former president Nelson Mandela which was given to him as part of his prize (presented to him here by KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Finance Ina Cronje).
The portrait bears the signature of the artist, Harold Riley – but the signature on it of Madiba himself is the one Van der Walt will prize after winning the tournament named for him in the period in which South Africans and the world are celebrating his life.
Van der Walt came into this tournament hoping to just find his game and play half decent golf. And as has been the case with the entire country, he found a world of inspiration in chasing a title that, finishing on the eve of the state funeral of Mr Mandela, will always be a historic one.
“This is so small compared to what Nelson Mandela did,” Van Der Walt said. “But it makes it a little more special. You can win the Nelson Mandela Championship in 10 years’ time, but this one will always be a special one.”
He and his wife, Bobby-Jo, had spoken of how significant it would be for him to win this event at such a critical time in South Africa’s history.
“We just knew it would be special for him to win it. Dawie kept telling me how much he wanted to do it,” she said, recalling how she first learnt of the story of Nelson Mandela in a Louisiana school classroom and never imagining it would ever coincide with this day.
The artwork will be an intimate part of the family’s life now. “It’s worth more than my house,” laughed Van der Walt. “It’s very unique and I’ll put it where I can see it a lot and it can remind me of a time in my career when I was down and I got back up.”
And with the tournament raising funds for the children’s hospital project of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, one of the more poignant moments of the presentation ceremonies came when the champion posed with the unique trophy and some of the children who had watched him win.
Before the final round, Van Der Walt had about three hours to kill before the start of the third and final round.
He found a corner in the locker room and had a sleep.
When he woke up, the dream was only beginning.