South Africa’s professional golfing community was united on Friday in expressing a profound sense of loss at the death of Nelson Mandela.
As the 2013 Nedbank Golf Challenge got back into action to complete its storm-interrupted first round, the players and fans were coming to terms with the passing of one of the world’s iconic leaders and a man who became a moral compass in a country still battling with its own sense of identity.
Selwyn Nathan, executive director of the Sunshine Tour, said, “Nelson Mandela said at the Laureus Sports Awards that sport could change the world. Well, he changed our country, and he showed just how sport could participate in that change. We mourn his passing with his family and with our country, and we salute the part he played in changing the world.”
Sunshine Tour Players’ Committee Chairman Alan Michell added, “Nelson Mandela showed his common touch during Rugby World Cup 1995, and in golf, we have felt that common touch too – he made a point of congratulating our players who achieved major successes personally, and that kind of attention doesn’t go unappreciated. We will forever be grateful for what he did for our country and for our sport.”
An emotional Ernie Els led the tributes of the players at Sun City, and spoke of his personal recollections of the great man, as well as summing up the feelings of so many people around the world.
“It is a very sad day,” said Els. “A very sad day for South Africa and the world really. We have lost one of the iconic leaders of our time. You cannot say anything bad about the man. He fought for what he believed in, went to prison for so many years and came out to lead our country up until now.
“He was the father of our country and our continent. It’s just very sad that he had to go. He was 95 and led a full life but a lot of that wasn’t spent on what he was so good at because he was away for so many years.
“I met him for the first time in 1994 with Mr (Johann) Rupert when we had a dinner together and then after that we stayed in touch. I used to play that tournament at Houghton and his home was very close to Houghton Golf Club. He came over one time and we exchanged gifts with each other. I have still got the picture from that day in 1996 in my office in the US. And then every time I won a tournament he used to call me.
“Today will be tough. He was our President and the man who changed our lives. It could have been so different in South Africa but he kept his head and kept everyone going forward. I was in the Air Force when the ANC was banned. I remember those days in the 1980s when the Government was against the ANC. You know, they were our enemies.
“And then President Mandela comes in and takes over the country and leads it in a democratic way. He was an unbelievable guy and the guys who lived in that generation will really miss him.”
2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen added, “We’ve been expecting it, but it doesn’t make it any easier. The country is definitely going to mourn him, and it will always miss him.”
Branden Grace said, “It’s a sad, sad day, not only for us, but also for the whole world. He was a true inspiration. He was one of the people I would truly have loved to have met.”
Richard Sterne said, “We’ve lost our biggest hero. He went through so much, so in a way, it’s good that he’s at peace now.”
On Twitter, Merrick Bremner said, “RIP to unquestionably the greatest man the world has ever seen! Tata Madiba your life & lessons will never be forgotten!”