By Michael Vlismas
Golf’s return to the Olympic Games for the first time in 112 years and Justin Rose’s gold-medal triumph has captured the attention of South Africa’s Sunshine Tour professionals, many of whom say they’ve added the Olympics to their list of career goals.
The incredible final-round tussle between Rose and Open champion Henrik Stenson for the gold medal in Rio on Sunday is still a talking point amongst the professionals competing in this week’s Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament at the Arabella Country Estate.
“I know that if I ever get the opportunity I’ll grab it with both hands, and I think a lot more golfers will do the same,” said Louis de Jager (pictured above), a three-time winner on the local tour and including a victory on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series.
De Jager had added interest in the Olympics this year as his father-in-law is South African running legend Nick Bester, who also manages a few of the marathon athletes who competed in Rio.
“Nick and I watched a lot of the Olympics together because he was so involved on the athletics side. He couldn’t believe all of the golfers were withdrawing like they did. I think a lot of golfers made a big mistake by not going and they’ll be sorry.
“In the beginning I’ll admit that I wasn’t so sure about it, but when it started it looked great. I think just the whole experience of being amongst the best athletes in the world and being able to see them compete and support them and have them support you must have been great. It looked like a lot of fun and it’s now definitely on my list of goals for the future.”
Keith Horne said he also enjoyed every ball hit on the Olympic golf course, as well as watching friend and longtime Sunshine Tour campaigner Adilson Da Silva compete for Brazil and hit the opening tee shot.
“I watched all four days of the golf and I thought it was fantastic. You could just see on Justin Rose’s face how much that gold medal meant to him. All three of the medalists looked very proud of their medals and it was special to see.
“All the golfers that were there seemed to describe it as the most amazing experience of their lives. I’ve never seen Adilson smile so much and enjoy himself so much on the golf course. He looked like he had the time of his life.
“I know it was quite controversial about the top players pulling out, so to see how well it went off and how much the players that were there appreciated it and were honoured to play in it was great for the future of Olympic golf.”
Horne shares the view that the show put on by Rose and Stenson may well convince those golfers who were undecided before that Olympic golf is worth it.
“Certainly after this one I think everybody is going to have a fresh look at golf in the Olympics, especially the top players. I hope there will be a different response from the best golfers at the next Olympics. I don’t think Olympic golf will just suddenly jump into the top echelons of golf and start competing with the Majors in terms of importance, but it would be great if it could eventually reach that point.”
Heinrich Bruiners, another former winner on the Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour who is competing this week, said he wished he could have had the opportunity to play at these Olympics.
“If I had the opportunity I would’ve loved to have gone. It was such a good showcase for golf that Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson battled it out for the gold medal. Justin played with so much enthusiasm and you could see he really wanted to win gold.
“You could see the way our own Brandon Stone spoke about the event and that feeling of being part of Team South Africa. Golf is a very individual sport and it’s quite lonely when you travel on tour. But to be part of a greater Team South Africa like that would be amazing.
“After this one I think being able to say you are an Olympian is quite an honour for any professional golfer.”