Display of SA strength at first WGC event of 2021

With six South Africans in the 73-man field for the year’s first World Golf Championships event, the WGC-Workday Championship at the Concession Golf Club in Brandeton, Florida, the country’s production line for golf talent is concisely revealed.

The contingent is led by South Africa’s top-ranked golfer, the 2010 Open champion and the 2018 South African Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. He is comfortably ensconced as a world-class player who has regularly been in the conversation when it comes to discussing major championship contenders for well over a decade.

He is joined by a man who became a professional after a United States college career, returned to South Africa in the infancy of his career to get an important victory in the national PGA Championship in 2017, and, from there, stepped confidently onto the international stage with victories in the 2017 Hainan Open on the European Challenge Tour and in the 2019 Scandinavian Invitation on the European Tour.

Brandon Stone represents a younger generation of players than Oosthuizen and Van Rooyen, a golfing prodigy who stepped away from the US collegiate treadmill after just a year and capitalised on turning pro early. After losing in a play-off in the Barclays Kenya Open in April 2015, he gained his first professional win in the Cape Town Open in November, and then took South African Open Championship in January 2016. That opened the floodgates for him. He now has three European Tour titles and some recent near-misses on that circuit show he is close to another.

The man Stone beat in that SA Open was Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Of a similar generation to Stone, his career trajectory proves that no-one remembers runners-up. But he carved out a niche for himself on the Sunshine Tour, with his maiden victory on that circuit coming in October 2016 in the Sun Fish River Sun Challenge. He patiently built on that base, and won for the first time on the European Tour in the 2019 Andalucia Masters. But it was his back-to-back victories in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the SA Open at the end of 2020 as professional golf emerged from the disorienting COVID-19 lockdown which catapulted him to world fame.

The other two players from South Africans in the field are products of the work local golf puts into creating opportunities for players who put in the hard yards. JC Ritchie (pictured) and Daniel van Tonder got into the field because they were the top two players from the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit. Their places in the field reward work that must have felt thankless, and careers that have, at times, seemed to be on the rocks. That both have emerged and get the chance to rub shoulders with the world’s top 50 players in the field is credit as much to Ritchie and Van Tonder personally as it is to the resilience of players produced in South Africa.

Over eight percent of the field comes from South Africa, and that alone is a noteworthy achievement for a small golfing nation. A winner this week would be incredible.

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