SA, world golf in good shape
Cape Town - The major championships of 2011 delivered four surprising champions, but looking back on them, perhaps two were less surprising than the others.
Charl Schwartzel’s triumph in the Masters at Augusta National was - for South Africans and European Tour followers - vindication of years of belief in his abilities, and it was one not dismissed as a ‘one-hit wonder’ as Louis Oosthuizen’s unfairly was after he won last year’s Open.
And Rory McIlroy’s US Open victory procession was hailed as the arrival of a superstar. While he didn’t conquer the world immediately thereafter, his maiden major victory certainly appears to have heralded golf’s next big thing.
Darren Clarke’s Open Championship win was one for the blokes of the world of golf. Had Miguel Angel Jimenez won, it’s possible it would have been equally well received. But Clarke has evolved into one of golf’s good guys with a healthy perspective on many of the problems facing the game and its stars.
Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship in pretty impressive fashion last weekend, in his first start in a major. He joined Francis Ouimet, who won the 1913 US Open and Ben Curtis who won the 2003 Open Championship, as the only players to have achieved that feat.
It’s difficult to evaluate which major performance was the most impressive, but the pair which bracketed the year had the most to commend them for the TV viewers.
Bradley’s comeback from triple-bogey on the 15th hole of regulation play in the final round to force a playoff with an admittedly struggling Jason Dufner was pretty riveting viewing. And he’s an engaging personality, too.
But so are Clarke and McIlroy, and their victories had something of a feel-good factor which kept viewers in their armchairs.
However, Schwartzel’s birdie barrage to win the Masters actually got viewers out of their seats: For South African fans, it was agonising to watch him make par after par from the third hole onwards in his final round while the title seemed destined to go to someone else.
And then he unleashed those final four birdies in succession, and roars could be heard through quiet neighbourhoods throughout the country.
Interestingly, of the players to make the cut in all four majors, Schwartzel was a combined 14-under-par, by far the best from that group.
For other South Africans - including a handful of major winners in Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman - it wasn’t such a great year.
Oosthuizen had a decent run in the US Open with a share of ninth, but that and his share of 54th when he attempted a defence of the Open title were bracketed by a pair of missed cuts at the Masters and the PGA.
In a generally disappointing year, Els had to settle for a single finish in the money in majors as he tied for 47th in the Masters and missed the cuts in the rest.
Goosen withdrew with injury from the PGA and the Open, missed the cut at the Masters and got a share of 23rd in the event he has won twice, the US Open.
Immelman fared altogether better: He started with an encouraging share of 15th in the Masters which he won in 2008, and closed with a tie for 12th in the PGA. He missed the cut at the US Open and got a share of 38th at Royal St George’s.
George Coetzee showed that there is yet another wave of South Africans ready to ascend the heights of world golf with a gutsy share of 15th at the Open Championship.
Tim Clark missed the cut at the Masters and then didn’t play in any of the other majors with his ongoing injury woes.
Rory Sabbatini also missed out at the Masters, but he got a share of 30th at the US Open, a share of 54th at the Open and a share of 74th ar the PGA Championship.
Christo Greyling - not a Sunshine Tour member, but a South African resident in the US - fared well in the US Open with a share of 68th.
Thomas Aiken, Martin Maritz and Neil Schietekat all missed the cut at the Open, as did Aiken at the PGA Championship.
The world of golf would have been happy that the game is in good shape after the four majors this year, and there is every sign that South African players have much to do with that shape.