Sishen - This is a story about friendship. It's the story of Swannie, Skippie, Stoffel and their best friend, a world-renowned cricketer named AB de Villiers. It's the story of how four boys from a small town have remained the closest of friends.
When De Villiers accepted an invitation to play in the Sunshine Tour's Vodacom Origins of Golf Pro-Am at Sishen Golf Club this week, there was no question as to who the professional golfer was that he would play with.
In fact, one of the world's greatest ever cricketers could pick up the phone to any number of South African golfers and they'd jump at the chance to play with him. But they wouldn't ever get that chance, because Chris "Swannie" Swanepoel has always filled that role since they were kids. The Sunshine Tour professional is one of De Villiers' closest friends.
"We all grew up in Warmbaths (Bela Bela). All of our fathers were friends, and they played golf together," Swanepoel explains.
"Skippie's (Johan Scheepers) dad, Stoffel's (Stoffel de Beer) dad and mine were all farmers. AB's dad was the local doctor in town, and everybody knows the town doctor. The town used to have a lekker little nine-hole golf course that our dads used to play, and as kids we'd meet our friends there. And the four of us have been friends since we can remember."
What Swanepoel also remembers is that there was one goal he, Skippie and Stoffel shared. "That was to try and beat AB. At anything. From a young age AB was just a freak of nature in all sports. He never used to practice swimming and would just climb in the pool and swim the pants off us. Cricket, athletics, tennis and rugby, he was phenomenal at all of them. All we wanted to do was beat AB."
"AB actually reminded me about a time in primary school when we had a bit of a scuffle because we all so badly wanted to beat him at anything. I couldn't remember it, but he remembered how something happened during break and there was a scuffle. And I said to him, 'Well, I'm not going to invite you to my party on the farm'. That was a big thing for him because he still remembers it. But I forgave him and did invite him to my party."
Even now as a professional golfer with four titles on the Sunshine Tour, Swanepoel says he remembers a time when he struggled to beat De Villiers at golf.
"He was actually better than me at golf up until Grade 10. I was always trying to beat AB, pretty much like everybody else in all of the sports. Then he began focusing more on cricket. But we would still come together on the golf course after school to play what was called the Sundowner Competition at Warmbaths Golf Club. Then the older members started complaining because we always won it."
Even as their paths split in high school and then later into their various careers, De Villiers moving into the stratosphere as one of the world’s greatest athletes, their friendship has remained as strong as ever.
"Fortunately for the four of us the friendship has carried on. There's nothing like a proper friendship. We have our disagreements but they never last longer than half an hour. And our kids are now friends, so it's a nice life story of that friendship continuing, which is exactly how I'd want it."
And as a friend, Swanepoel says you couldn’t ask for better in De Villiers.
"He's the most humble professional sportsmen there is. He's in the category of the greatest in the history of cricket, but as a human being he's probably the most down-to-earth person you'd ever meet. He's a phenomenal friend. We try our best to get together as often as we can. Sometimes his schedule is a bit hectic. But we always make a plan.
"It's the kind of friendship you get in a small town."
Image: Tyrone Winfield