Cape Town - South Africa’s Branden Grace feels like he belongs among the top contenders in professional golf.
Grace flew the South African flag at the year's final golf major - the PGA Championship - at Whistling Straits in Kohler, America at the weekend when he finished in third position.
The 27-year-old posted an impressive score of 15-under par, five shots behind champion Jason Day of Australia and two behind America's Jordan Spieth.
His major record for 2015 now reads a missed cut, a share of fourth, a share of 20th and third.
“I’m getting closer in the majors, which I want to do,” Grace told the Sunshine Tour’s official website. “I feel that the game is keeping up and the standard of golf that I’m playing is showing. And I don’t have to step down for these guys.”
His reward - besides the satisfaction of knowing he belongs in the rarefied company of the world’s best players - was his own little climb in the Official World Golf Rankings to 20th, just seven spots behind the top-ranked South African player, 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.
The sense of belonging is a critical contributor to why he has had such a good year: “I think you just kind of relax as you go into the major weeks now,” said Grace. “I just told my caddie Zach (Rasego) as we were walking up 18, it’s amazing how these weeks turn out. My first two rounds of golf weren’t spectacular at all and I just grinded away and look where I finished up.”
He needed to grind on the back nine on Sunday after a pushed tee shot on the 10th left him with a lie a contender for a major would rather not have to deal with. The resultant double-bogey on 10, a bogey on 15 and a missed three-footer for birdie on 16 cost him four shots that would have at least have put him in the same postal code as the rampant Day down the stretch, and that could have caused the Aussie some undesirable pressure.
“I made a couple of silly mistakes around the turn,” said Grace. “That disappointing double bogey on the 10 got me back, too far back.
“Jason was just a tough competitor this week. He played some marvellous golf and I don’t think anybody would have caught him this week. But if those silly mistakes weren’t in there, you never know what could have been at the finish.”
Grace’s year - with two wins on the European Tour and in the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Sunshine Tour to go with his major performances - is already a success. He can relax and chase victories wherever he chooses now, and get himself up for a renewed attempt to unlock the door to a major victory next year.
“This year after Augusta, my approach to the majors been a lot quieter,” said Grace. “I’ve been much more relaxed and I’m just taking it as it comes, really. Play maybe one, maybe two practice days and just go with it. And I think that’s been a key to getting to where I am.”
Meanwhile, Grace’s countrymen also performed adequately at the year’s final major.
George Coetzee was the second best placed South African, finishing on 12-under par after shooting 67 in last Sunday's final round at Whistling Straits.
Ernie Els finished tied for 25th on 5-under par, while Louis Oosthuizen (-4) and Charl Schwartzel (-3) were further back.
The other South Africans competing in the event - Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatini and Johan Kok (SA-born) - had missed the cut.