15th May 2019 | Sunshine Tour
South Africans under the radar in PGA Championship
He won it twice and was runner-up twice, and, so far, Gary Player is the only South African to have won what used to be the final major championship of the season – the PGA Championship.
It was nicknamed ‘Glory’s Last Shot’, but for the eight South Africans in the field, it’s a chance now to set up a run at the big international events coming up in the latter half of the world golf season, which include the two major championships which perhaps most capture the imagination. That’s because the US Open and The Open are truly ‘open’ championships.
And with the PGA Championship featuring 99 of the world’s top 100 players according to the Official World Golf Ranking – it would have been all 100 of them, but for the late withdrawal of Justin Thomas – it’s going to be no easy task for Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Harding, Branden Grace, Shaun Norris, Dylan Frittelli, Brandon Stone, Richard Sterne and Erik van Rooyen to get into contention.
It will be made no easier because the course – Bethpage Black in New York – is perhaps as tough as any they will encounter this year, and the conditions so far have been wintery, and that is hardly conducive to a stirring performance from a South African used to playing his golf on sun-soaked courses.
Of course, all of the South Africans in the field have experience playing in conditions like that as they all campaign abroad, and all of them have shown they can hold their own in the pressure cooker situations brought on by a major championship. Oosthuizen has won one and been runner-up in all of them, Grace has five top-five finishes, Harding was a revelation in last month’s Masters, and the rest all have records of which they can be justifiably proud.
So, in this most ‘American’ of all the major championships, perhaps it is worth taking a step back from the preview coverage which can see very little further than Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods as possible winners. Oh, there are 15 non-US players amongst the 30 with odds of 60-1 or better, but Webb Simpson at 60-1 together with Oosthuizen? Really?
Here’s what we know about the South African players in the field: They will be smart in accepting that the course will hurt them if they are wayward off the tee, inaccurate in approach and sloppy on the greens. So they will spend their time during the opening two rounds being none of the above.
That’s not to say they will all get it spot on – no-one will, and there will be some surprising casualties ahead of the cut. And some of the South Africans will miss the cut.
But so compelling has been the rise of Harding over the last year – and it’s emblematic of the way South African players can be the most surprising of players on the biggest stages – that it’s difficult to look forward to the week at Bethpage Black without believing that at least one South African will make his presence felt.
It’s easy to think there may be more than one, too.