The young South African will make his debut in “Africa’s major” at the Gary Player Country Club from 5-8 December.
“We are thrilled to have Branden in the field. Over the last few years we’ve had a new generation of young South African stars starting to make their mark in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, including Trevor Immelman, Richard Sterne, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and now Branden Grace,” said Alastair Roper, the Tournament Director for Sun International’s Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Grace secured his place in the revamped $6.5 million tournament by winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit during a spectacular 2012 season for him.
Grace won five times around the world in 2012, with four of those wins coming on the European Tour.
His historic season saw him become the first player in European Tour history to win his first four tournaments in the same year.
After regaining his European Tour card at the Qualifying School, he won the Joburg Open, Volvo Golf Champions and Volvo China Open to join Ernie Els and Retief Goosen as only the third South African to win three times in a single season. Grace returned home to win the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final on the Sunshine Tour.
His next triumph on the European Tour came in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he posted a tournament record of 22 under par after shooting 60 at Kingsbarns in the first round.
“A lot of hard work went into my 2012 season, and one of my main aims was to win the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit and secure a place in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. So I’m very pleased to have done this,” said Grace.
“I grew up watching this tournament over the years and it’s any young South African golfer’s dream to make it into this field, and especially at a time when the tournament is entering such an exciting new era.”
“I’m living the dream.”
The simplicity of this statement by Branden Grace doesn’t come close to describing the rise of one of world golf’s exciting young stars, and the historic season he enjoyed in 2012.
It was a season that brought Grace over R30 million in earnings. But more importantly, it brought him worldwide recognition amongst his peers as a new force in the game.
After losing his European Tour card following his first full season there in 2009, Grace returned to the European Tour’s Qualifying School at the end of 2011. He arrived in Johannesburg at the start of the 2012 season trying to resurrect his career.
He won the Joburg Open to secure his playing privileges on the European Tour. Then he beat his boyhood idols Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a playoff for the Volvo Golf Champions at the Fancourt Links. What followed was victory in the Volvo China Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship for four wins on the European Tour. And he returned home to win the Vodacom Origins of Golf at Fancourt on his way to winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.
It was a season that caught everyone’s attention. At the time it was unfolding even Padraig Harrington said, “There’s nobody in the world right now I’d like to play with more than Branden, just to see what makes him tick”.
Grace, quite rightly, lapped it up. “It was a big struggle,” he said of his journey back to the European Tour. “I was out on the Challenge Tour playing every week and just trying to survive and get back on the European Tour. Sponsors aren’t easy at times like that, so you use most of the money that you make. But you fall behind and you start owing people money, and that puts huge pressure on you.”
“Then I went to the European Tour’s Qualifying School and everything just came together. I got my card, and my caddie Zach and me sat down and we said, ‘We’re playing really well and we can win one of the next two tournaments’. That was the goal before Joburg Open, and the rest is history. I could just relax and play golf.
“It’s been awesome. Everything has happened really quickly. Things have happened that I couldn’t ever imagine.”
One of the biggest personal highlights was winning a tournament on the Old Course at St Andrews.
Grace prepared for the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship by watching YouTube videos of Louis Oosthuizen’s victory in the 2010 Open on the Old Course. “I always dreamt of lifting a trophy on that bridge,” Grace said.
In 2013, Grace continued to build on the confidence of his previous season as he found himself sharing fairways with some of the biggest names in golf. He lost in the semi-finals of the Volvo World Match Play to Graeme McDowell and was beaten in a playoff for the Scottish Open by Phil Mickelson.
But as he gets accustomed to playing in the biggest fields in world golf, Grace has a clear vision of his future. “My long-term goals are to win Majors and rank inside the top 10. That’s going to take some time, patience and experience. I understand that now.”
Born: 20 May 1988.
Turned pro: 2007.
Special interests: Movies, hunting, reading.
Career highlights: Won his first tournament in the Coca-Cola Charity Championship on the Sunshine Tour in 2010. Won four times on the European Tour and five times worldwide. Scores a European Tour record-equalling 60 at Kingsbarns in the first round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
2013 highlights: Made it to the semi-finals of the Volvo World Match Play before losing 3&2 to eventual champion Graeme McDowell. Lost in a playoff with Phil Mickelson for the Scottish Open.
2013 Majors: The Masters – T18. The US Open – Missed Cut. The Open – T64. The PGA Championship – Missed Cut.
NGC record: Debut.