It took as much sacrifice as anyone would want to make, and when Brandon Stone sank the putt which won him the BMW South African Open Championship proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, he sank to his knees over the hole and he didn’t care who saw him weep.
“I don’t have the vocabulary to describe my emotions,” he said. “It feels a little bit surreal. I’m just trying to savour what I can and feel what I can – right now, I’m on top of the world.”
He carded a final round of one-under-par 71 for a tournament total of 14-under-par 274 to hold off rookie Christiaan Bezuidenhout by two shots, with England’s Daniel Brooks in third place a further stroke back. Veteran and two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen shared fourth with Justin Walters, Branden Grace and Keith Horne.
“I didn’t just get back from a holiday and come and win this,” said Stone. “People don’t know that I flew to Durban on New Year’s Eve to spend her birthday with my mother, and then flew back early the next day to practice again. This win has been two-and-a-half years in the making.”
He made things difficult for himself during the final round: When he made his second birdie of the day on the fourth hole, he had opened up a yawning five-stroke gap over Brooks and he should have coasted home.
Instead, he made three bogeys in a row, and suddenly, he looked in danger of slipping right off the leaderboard. “I lost my swing off the tee,” he said, “but I never doubted that I could still win the tournament.”
He rallied with a birdie at the eighth, but the recovery was short-lived as he dropped three more shots around the turn on nine, 10 and 11.
“I got onto the 12th tee, and my caddie Chris (Simmons) said to me, ‘Let’s just get this in play.’ I hit a great drive and as we walked to the ball, he said, ‘Okay, let’s build on this.’ I hit the approach to six feet and holed the putt, and I knew I was back on track,” he said.
He picked up three more birdies after that, but it was the putt which saved par on 17 which left him feeling almost as drained as he was after he sank the putt on 18. “That was a big putt,” he said. “I thought I had hit it short, but it rolled eight feet past the hole. Those putts are never fun, and I couldn’t get a read on it. Eventually, Chris and I agreed on a line and it went in.”
The 22-year-old, who turned professional midway through 2013, played his first paid tournament at the BMW International Open in Germany, and has been on a journey towards the moment when he lifted the trophy since then.
“At the beginning of last year, I set some goal, and one of them was to get a win on The European Tour,” he said. With the South African Open being co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and European Tour, he’s achieved that dream.
But achieving it in the second-oldest national open championship in golf is almost beyond believable for him.
That he was able to share it with his grandfather Sam, who walked with him, and his father Kevin, who is still a professional on the Sunshine Tour, made it even more special.
And the greeting that tournament host Ernie Els, a four-time Major winner, gave him when he congratulated him, was perhaps as sweet as anything he will imbibe in celebration: “This is the future of South African golf,” the Big Easy told the people crammed around the pair.