The last time a South African lifted the coveted Nedbank Golf Challenge was back in 2007 when Trevor Immelman held off Justin Rose by a single stroke, and this year, Branden Grace leads a five-strong contingent of locals who can upend that trend.
Grace is the highest-ranked South African in the field, have breezed past 2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen into 15th spot in the Official World Golf Rankings, with Oosthuizen down to 18th.
Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Nedbank Golf Challenge rookies Jaco van Zyl and Thomas Aiken make up the balance of the South African group.
“I hope a South African can lift the trophy this time,” said Grace. “I’ve had a hell of a year, so I hope I can be the South African. If it’s not me then another South African.”
Grace started a wondrous 2015 with a victory in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in January, and then, after a missed cut in the year’s first major, the Masters, he reeled off a share of fourth in the US Open, a share of 20th in The Open Championship and a share of third in the US PGA Championship. He also had a share of fifth in the World Golf Championship-HSBC Champions and was third in The European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
In the US Open, he was denied victory by one bad tee shot in the final round and the exhilarating charge of Jordan Spieth, and in the PGA Championship, it was the inexorable performance of Jason Day which kept him out.
That kind of consistency announced him as a major champion in waiting, and one of a breed of young players who will hog he headlines for the foreseeable future. “It’s been building up,” said Grace. “I’ve been playing well. During the last five events, I’ve been getting inside the top 10 and top five – just not finishing it off, so I hope I’ve gained a little bit more experience coming into this one.”
Grace made his first appearance in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2013, where he finished in a share of 20th with Victor Dubuisson, and is thrilled to be part of the action this year for the second time. “It’s only my second visit, so it’s nice to be here,” he said. “This is the big one for us South Africans. When we grow up watching golf, this is the one we watch, this is the one you want to win. I’m excited to be here for a second time and when you’re playing well, it makes it extra special.”