Cape Town - The 2017 majors didn’t yield a victory for South Africa, but there was still much to celebrate as world golf focuses on a closing half of the year that will see many of the country’s top male professionals hoping to claim a victory in “Africa’s Major” at the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player in November.
While it’s now five years since South Africa last celebrated a major champion (Ernie Els, 2012 Open Championship), a new generation of young stars stepped onto the major stage this year and the country’s presence was felt in other areas as well.
Branden Grace made sure that South Africa will forever be associated with the 2017 majors when he shot the lowest round in men’s major history - a 62 in perfect third-round conditions - on his way to finishing tied sixth in the Open Championship. And Ernie Els garnered even further worldwide respect as he reached the significant milestone of playing in his 100th major at the PGA Championship.
The new faces to come through included Dylan Frittelli and Shaun Norris, while Brandon Stone made further progress in his fledgling major career.
The 35-year-old Norris qualified for his first major, the Open Championship, by virtue of his victory on the Japan Golf Tour. While by no means a youngster, he went on to finish tied 62nd, including posting an equally impressive 65 on that historic Saturday.
Frittelli also made his major debut at Royal Birkdale in a year when he broke through with a maiden European Tour title in the Lyoness Open. He missed the cut, but in his second major appearance at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow he played all four rounds to finish tied 63rd.
The US Open was another positive step for Stone as he made his debut in this major and finished tied 35th. Perhaps more significantly, Stone led the putting statistics for the week at Erin Hills. If you can win the putting battle of a US Open it speaks volumes for what lies ahead at major championship level as a whole. Louis Oosthuizen was the best South African finisher at the US Open in a share of 23rd place.
Oosthuizen went on to finish tied second in the PGA Championship to complete his career Grand Slam of second places. He also won over Twitter with his lip-syncing video on the plane home.
Charl Schwartzel has spoken often of late of his desire to add to his major tally, and in the Masters there was more than just a hint of confidence from a man hungry to chase down the leaders on the final day on his way to finishing third.
Richard Sterne, who has twice in his career had top 30 finishes at the Masters as well as a tie for 21st at the 2013 Open, made a welcome return to form at the highest level with his finish of tied 28th at Quail Hollow.
Outside the ropes, South Africa’s presence was also felt in coach Jamie Gough. Gough works with Chinese professional Haotong Li, who this year became the first Chinese golfer to make the cut at a US Open and then also went on to finish third in the Open.
In the women’s game, the 2017 majors were a very positive step forward for Ashleigh Buhai.
Buhai played in only three of the five majors this season but was the leading South African in all three. She finished tied 27th in the US Women’s Open, tied 36th in the Women’s PGA Championship and tied 30th in the Women’s British Open.