Georgia - Ahead of this week’s season-opening Masters tournament, South African golf fans are turning towards the 2010 Soccer World Cup slogan for inspiration: ke nako – it is time.
Not since the 1980s have South African golf fans had to endure such a long wait for one of their countrymen to lift one of golf’s holy grails.
Ernie Els’ surprise win in the 2012 British Open was the last time a South African secured a victory in one of the four majors. Since then, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel have come close, but haven’t made it over the finish line in first place.
There has, of course, been the odd victory on the European Tour, and Schwartzel and Grace won on the PGA Tour, but golf’s biggest prize has eluded them.
This year, Oosthuizen, Grace and Schwartzel will be joined at the Masters by 2008 winner Trevor Immelman, as well as first-time participant Dylan Frittelli.
The event starts at the Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday.
Johannesburg-born Frittelli (27) is not your average run-of-the-mill golfer. On a blog for the European Tour, he wrote: “I do enjoy to stimulate my mind in different ways; sport, academia and culture as well. I like anything that keeps my mind going. I’ve just bought a saxophone; I played growing up. The chance to relearn music is something which I hope can be an escape while also stimulating my mind.”
Grace has finished in the top six of all majors, bar the Masters, where his best place was 18th – secured as a rookie in 2013. He is widely regarded as a player who can – and should – win a major.
Sergio García showed last year that the Masters can be the place to finally break the streak and Grace can take some comfort from the Spaniard’s showing.
Woods back in contention
This time around, García is not considered to be one of the favourites as Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and a resurgent Tiger Woods go into Thursdays’ first round as the bookies’ choice.
Woods last played in the Masters in 2015 and has hit form just in time for a 21st appearance at Augusta.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ll start to make some changes for Augusta, what kind of equipment set-up I’m going to go with, some things I want to do with my swing.”
Arguably South Africa’s best chance of winning the fabled green jacket is Oosthuizen.
Since taking the Open in 2010, Oosthuizen has become one of just seven golfers in the world to secure a career runner-up slam (finishing second in all four majors).
“That really isn’t something I should be very proud of. You wonder, where are the wins?” he said last year, after adding a runners-up finish in the unofficial fifth major – the players championship – to his record.
“It feels like you can play every one and you’ve got a chance of winning every one. I take a lot from that to have done it. But, at the end of the day, they are going to remember the guys who won the majors and not who finished second.”
Which brings him to this year’s Masters and his hope to add to his Open win.
“I feel like I’m playing well and everything is working. It’s just a matter of getting everything really sharp before Augusta, which is obviously a very special place, and I think the more you play it, the more comfortable you get around that golf course. It’s one I love and I really enjoy it. I just need to get the game right.”
Oosthuizen was beaten by Ian Poulter in the World Match Play earlier this month, prompting the Englishman, who struggled to contain a strong Oosthuizen comeback on the final holes, to say: “I knew Louis wasn’t going to back off. That’s why he’s got a green jacket in his closet.”
Oosthuizen does not yet have a green jacket, but hopefully Poulter’s words are a good omen.