By Michael Vlismas
Amidst the hundreds of congratulatory handshakes new European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke has received since the announcement last week, one South African golfer feels a special kinship with one of the biggest names in world golf at present.
Omar Sandys, a 39-year-old journeyman professional from Welkom, went and congratulated Clarke during this week’s Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, remembering well what the Northern Irishman meant to him at the start of his career.
“Darren was one of a group of people who sponsored me in 2001 and 2002 and helped me at the start of my career,” said Sandys. The others were Lee Westwood, Clarke and Westwood’s manager Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, and South African businessman Jeremy Ord.
Their faith in Sandys was immediately rewarded when he led the first round of the 2001 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland alongside Ernie Els and Brian Davis.
Sandys’s career didn’t kick on in the way he would’ve wanted, but he says he remains forever grateful for what Clarke and the others did for him.
“I had never been overseas before, and they showed me a whole new world,” he said on Thursday after a first round of 76 on the West Course in the Joburg Open.
“Darren is an incredible guy. Even now, when I went to congratulate him, he still remembered me. He helped me a lot with my game and would spend quite a bit of time with me on the range. He showed me how to spin the ball left and right with my chips. I’ll never forget, we were chipping together and I holed four chips in a row. He just laughed and said I was a legend.”