South Africa has a 11-man contingent playing in the second major championship of the year, and, of those players, it’s hard not to like the chances of the youngest and most inexperienced of them, Garrick Higgo.
While the PGA Championship which tees off on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina on Thursday will be played on the longest course in major championship history, don’t expect the long hitters of world golf to dominate because of their distance off the tee. It’s going to take precision as well as muscle on a course which actually invites the wind off the sea to make it as tough as anything the players will face.
Higgo, for all his inexperience, brings one thing to the party in his first major championship, and that is a clean slate. He will not be scarred by the disasters the course can induce, nor by the disappointments of poor performances in major championships past. With two recent victories on the European Tour, he will be brimming with confidence.
The left-hander from De Zalze in the Western Cape also brings an impressive set of skills with him to this biggest of stages. He won’t be intimidated by the distance at Kiawah, with six of the holes playing over 500 yards on a par-72 course of 7,876 yards – longer than the 2017 US Open set-up at Erin Hills which was 7,741 yards. And he leads the European Tour in strokes gained putting this season, so he knows that when he reaches the greens, he is going to be able to mix it with the best.
Amongst the best will be Louis Oosthuizen, who has the unenviable record of having been runner-up in all four majors, to go with his one major title when he won the 2010 Open Championship. His unflappable demeanour as well as his experience at the highest level makes him a perennial major championship contender, and his current form has been based on some good putting in recent tournaments.
The other South African major champion in the field is Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, and he comes off a share of third in last week’s PGA Tour event. If his recent upward trend continues – 21st, 14th and third – he could go close.
The other South African players in the field are by no means no-hopers, even if the American bookies think so. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Erik van Rooyen, Daniel van Tonder, Dylan Frittelli, Brandon Stone, Dean Burmester, Branden Grace and George Coetzee all are inside the world’s top 100, and that doesn’t happen by accident. All of them have won on international stages, and it would be unsurprising should they do so again.
They are up against the cream of the world’s crop. Jordan Spieth’s game is trending in the right direction and he is looking for the career grand slam at the PGA, the lone major that has eluded him. This is Spieth’s fifth crack at trying to win the grand slam. And Rory McIlroy has rediscovered how to win after an 18-month title drought. But the biggest threat of all would appear to come from world number one Dustin Johnson, playing in his home state.
But if you’re a South African fan, keep a close eye on Higgo. It might not happen this week, but he’ll win a major championship – soon.