Oosthuizen in pole position for back-to-back SA Open titles 1

11th January 2020

Oosthuizen in pole position for back-to-back SA Open titles

Louis Oosthuizen, the Player-Host and defending champion of the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg, has an opportunity to become the first player in 16 years to claim back-to-back SA Open titles at Randpark Golf Club on Sunday.

Oosthuizen signed for a bogey-free 64 on Randpark’s Firethorn course to lift him to 15 under par and one stroke clear of the field. Trevor Immelman is the last player to have won back-to-back SA Open titles in 2003 and 2004.

Oosthuizen made three birdies in his first four holes and one more on the par-four ninth hole to turn in 31 as his search for a second victory gained momentum on Saturday. Coming home, it was more of the same as three more birdies went down on his scorecard.

“I worked a little bit on the putting and I found something that I thought might get my rhythm a little better,” said Oosthuizen. “The speed and lines were pretty decent today on the greens so I was happy.”

While he refuses to get carried away, especially with the host of players chasing him down for that top spot in the final round, it’s not escaped Oosthuizen’s mind that a win here on Sunday could throw him in a special club of players who have won this title more than just once, let alone back-to-back.

“Another win here would mean a lot to me,” he said. “I mean, getting my name on that trophy again would really mean a lot to me. Defending any title is tough but If I could win here, being the defending champion and the Player-Host for the week, that would be special.”

A lot of work still lies ahead, though, because he has a slender lead over England’s Marcus Armitage.

Armitage carded the best round of the day, a nine-under 62, to get to 14-under and just a shot back of the defending champion. Hot on Armitage’s heels and two shots behind Oosthuizen is Jaco Ahlers, whose three-under-par 68 in round three pushed him up to 13-under for the week.

And talented 18-year-old amateur Jayden Schaper, as well as Branden Grace, are both just three shots off the lead.

SA golf pays tribute to Denis Hutchinson 1

SA golf pays tribute to Denis Hutchinson

By Michael Vlismas

Denis Hutchinson’s immense contribution to golf will be celebrated through a new tournament in his honour and in partnership with the Sunshine Tour, PGA of South Africa, GolfRSA and the South African Golf Association (SAGA).

The Denis Hutchinson Challenge Trophy will be played at Hutchinson’s home course of Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club on a date still to be announced, and it will feature 10 Sunshine Tour professionals and 10 PGA of South Africa professionals competing as a team against a 20-strong GolfRSA amateur team in an annual challenge match.

Selwyn Nathan, the Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour, made the announcement during the third round of the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg at Randpark Golf Club on Saturday.

“This year is the 60th anniversary of Denis Hutchinson winning the South African Open as an amateur. Between all of us as the bodies representing South African golf, we wanted to celebrate this and build a legacy for Hutchy in years to come. Hutchy is a really special man. He is the voice of golf around the world. As a player, he has been able to transfer the skills he had to many professionals and amateurs, and for us to have someone as special as this in South African golf to honour is a great privilege.”

Grant Hepburn, the Chief Executive Officer of GolfRSA and Managing Director of the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB), said they are delighted to be part of a tribute to a person whose influence in South African golf reaches all spheres of the game.

“I grew up listening to Denis commentate on television. He’s done so much for golf, and what he means for golf in our country is huge. We are so fortunate in South African golf to be able to work closely together with all of the golf bodies, and the Denis Hutchinson Challenge Trophy will further solidify that unity that exists in our golf while at the same time celebrating an amazing man who is leaving an incredible legacy in South African golf.”

Naadir Agherdien, President of the South African Golf Association (SAGA), said Hutchinson remains an incredible role model for the country’s amateur golfers.

“Denis Hutchinson represents everything of what we want our leading amateurs to be, both on and off the fairways. He is a true inspiration for our amateurs. An event like this will also give our amateurs an opportunity to test themselves against the professionals and see where their own games stand.”

Ivano Ficalbi, Chief Executive of the PGA of South Africa, said the challenge match is a fitting tribute to a PGA member held in high esteem by generations of PGA professionals and who gives back so much to the game in his role as Honorary Life President of the PGA of South Africa.

“Any PGA member who has qualified since the 90s will have Denis Hutchinson’s signature on his certificate of qualification. Denis has always been somebody our members have always looked up to not just for what he’s achieved as a golfer but also because he always has time for our members. I think this trophy will be played in exactly the kind of spirit that reflects Denis and his love for the game of golf.”

Amateur Schaper chasing SA Open history 1

10th January 2020

Amateur Schaper chasing SA Open history

Teenage sensation Jayden Schaper heads into the weekend of the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg just one shot off the lead and looking to become the first amateur to win this title since 1959.

The 18-year-old climbed to 10-under-par for the championship with a second round of 67 on Randpark’s Firethorn course on Friday. He sits in a group of five players including Thriston Lawrence, Sam Horsfield, Jaco Ahlers and Trevor Fisher Jnr. just one shot off the 11-under-par lead of Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland, who signed for a 66 on Firethorn.

Schaper is seeking to make history as the first amateur since Denis Hutchinson over 60 years ago to win the South African Open.

“It’s just special to be near the top of the leaderboard and having played with one of my idols Louis Oosthuizen over the past two days,” said the country’s top-ranked amateur, who last year won a host of titles on home soil as well as the prestigious Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in the United States.

“The way I see it, it’s the same golf course and just a different field. I’ll just treat it as any amateur event I’ve played in. There will be a bit of nerves, but I kind of enjoy that. I’m just looking forward to the weekend. It would be pretty special to match what Mr Hutchinson did, but I’m just going to take it one shot at a time and if the opportunity comes I’ll try my best to take it.”

Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen heads into the weekend three shots off the lead despite what he said was a frustrating 69 on Firethorn on Friday.

“I hit it as good as I can but I just didn’t make any putts. I started doubting my lines and then made a few bad strokes. But it’s still fine. I’m three behind going into the weekend and that’s a good spot to be,” said Oosthuizen.

Fellow South Africans Branden Grace and George Coetzee are also just three off the lead.

Van Rooyen’s Masters invitation arrives at SA Open

Van Rooyen’s Masters invitation arrives at SA Open

By Michael Vlismas

Erik van Rooyen was sitting in the players’ area at Randpark Golf Club on the first day of the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg when his manager, Mitchell, arrived. The manager first handed Van Rooyen’s caddie, a Liverpool fan, a football jersey for his baby girl. Then he turned to Van Rooyen and said, “And here’s a gift for you”.

“I knew immediately what it was,” said a delighted Van Rooyen as he opened his invitation from The Board of Governors of the Augusta National Golf Club to participate in the 2020 Masters.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s a moment you dream of for a long time. It’s pretty special and I’m definitely going to frame the invitation and keep it,” Van Rooyen said on Friday.

This will be his debut in The Masters thanks to his finish inside the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of 2019.

“While I was at college in America we played a tournament nearby there in 2009 and they gave us tickets to the Monday practice round of the Masters. It was pretty cool to see. But to tee it up will be amazing.”

And he’s already been given his first bit of advice from fellow professional Branden Grace.

“Branden said that I’m going to spend all of my money buying Masters memorabilia – cups, flags, caps, anything. I’ll do that for sure. You never know what route this game takes you, but the first Masters will always be special. My folks will be with me as well. So it’s going to be really special.”

Thimba Jnr. chasing South African Open glory

9th January 2020

Thimba Jnr. chasing South African Open glory

By Michael Vlismas

At the end of last year, Toto Thimba Jnr. was very clear on the biggest goal he had for 2020. “I want to win the SA Open”. The South African took a big step towards achieving this goal as he came through Thursday’s first round of the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg just two shots off the lead.

Thimba Jnr. opened with a seven-under-par 64 on Randpark’s Bushwillow course, putting him well within reach of leader Johannes Veerman of America who signed for a sublime nine-under 62 on Bushwillow.

Veerman is one stroke clear of the field, with Italian Nino Bertasio and South Africa’s JC Ritchie his nearest challengers.

Branden Grace came through day one with a 64 on the Firethorn course, which was the day’s best on this layout.

Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen opened with a solid 65 on Bushwillow. “It was decent. I drove it nicely. There were a few putts where I didn’t quite get the lines right, but I’m rolling it nicely. I would’ve taken six-under for my first round so I’m happy,” said Oosthuizen.

Top-ranked South African amateur Jayden Schaper also signed for a 65 on Bushwillow.

Thimba Jnr, a member of the Sunshine Tour’s Gary Player Class of professionals identified for support with their careers and who are pushing each other to greater heights, is playing with a true belief that a place on one of the most famous trophies in golf is not beyond his reach.

And he is well aware of the impact it would make should he achieve his goal of a victory in his national Open.

“If I win, it will open doors for a lot of Black golfers. That’s my goal and that’s what I want to achieve. I want to be an inspiration,” he said.

Thimba Jnr. claimed his breakthrough Sunshine Tour victory in the KCB Karen Masters in Kenya last year. And he was also inspired by the performance of Madalitso Muthiya in the last edition of this tournament as he challenged for the title with Louis Oosthuizen before finishing tied seventh.

“Anytime a Black golfer plays well it inspires me. You just have to stay patient, work hard and believe in yourself. I write the word ‘Believe’ on my golf ball to remind myself that I can win out here.”

Tournament leader Veerman was delighted to tee off the decade with a 62.

“It was a good round of golf. The course was set up to go low out there. The wind didn’t blow hard, the rough isn’t long, and the greens were receptive, so there was a good number out there,” he said.

Oosthuizen excited about the future of South African golf

Oosthuizen excited about the future of South African golf

By Michael Vlismas

Louis Oosthuizen believes South African golf is in a great place at the moment, and the proof of this will be on display at this week’s South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg at Randpark Golf Club.

Oosthuizen, speaking on the eve of Thursday’s first round and in his role as both defending champion and the new Player-Host of the second oldest national Open in golf, said the depth of golf worldwide has increased substantially, and that South Africa also has a deep well of talent coming through.

“Golf is very competitive worldwide. At any Major Championship now there are 50 to 60 players that can win it. It’s such a small margin between a top-10 finish in a Major and a win. But I think South African golf is in a really good spot. We’ve got lots of young players coming through and it might not happen right now, but I do think we have a few Major champions coming,” said Oosthuizen.

As he spoke, the driving range at Randpark Golf Club was filled with 65 children from the townships of Soweto, Alexandra and Diepsloot who were attending a golf clinic with professionals from the Sunshine Tour and European Tour as part of the City of Joburg’s ongoing efforts to grow the game.

Soweto Country Club this week hosted the South African Open Pro-Am for the first time in history, and the newly refurbished course also has a South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) chapter for the coaching of young golfers in the iconic township. At a professional level, this week’s field will feature six golfers from the Gary Player Class, the Sunshine Tour’s talent identification squad for historically disadvantaged professionals, who have been given invitations by the City of Joburg to participate in the championship. They are Dwayne Basson, Thabiso Ngcobo, Franklin Manchest, Keelan van Wyk, Makhetha Mazibuko and Musiwalo Nethunzwi. And four young golfers – two from Soweto Country Club and two from Diepsloot – have been given the opportunity to spend the week inside the ropes with the professionals and experience the South African Open as Honorary Observers.

The strength of amateur golf under GolfRSA will be showcased with a record 11 amateurs playing in their national Open.

And with the SAGDB celebrating its 20th anniversary as the official body for golf development in South Africa, and the other coordinated efforts of foundations and golf academies such as the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation and Oosthuizen’s own Louis57 Academy, South African golf has a fully integrated and sustainable golf development drive that is the envy of many a country.

“I think golf in South Africa is strong. I have one or two of the golfers in my foundation who are looking forward to starting a career in golf in the near future. It’s just good to see golf in such a good place in South Africa,” said Oosthuizen.

As much as he is enthused about the future of South African golf, Oosthuizen is still very much focused on his own efforts this week.

“Coming back here as a defending champion is great. And then, when I received the call from Ernie Els and Sunshine Tour Commissioner Selwyn Nathan asking me to be the Player-Host, that was a great honour and makes this week extra special for me.

“My win here was emotional because it’s a title I always wanted. It was great to get that victory, and it would be great to put my name on that trophy again. Gary Player won this so many times, and Ernie Els and Retief Goosen won it a few times. Whenever you put your name on a trophy for the second time it’s special.”

SA Open trophy’s origins not clear

8th January 2020

SA Open trophy’s origins not clear

Stars such as Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Eddie Pepperell, Brandon Stone, and Charl Schwartzel will be competing for one of South Africa’s iconic sports trophies in the South African Open Championship hosted by the City of Johannesburg at Randpark Golf Club.

There is a record in a newspaper advertisement in 1909 which refers to the ‘Open Championship Floating Trophy’, which was to be held by the amateur or professional with the lowest score in the SA Open. But there is no indication, either then or since, in the SA Golf Association records regarding how or when the trophy was first acquired or by whom it was presented. It is referred to in all instances as the ‘Open Championship Cup’ or ‘Trophy’.

The South African Open was inaugurated in 1903 after a series of exhibition matches had been played in the decade prior to it. It is the second-oldest national open golf championship in the world, with the Open Championship being the oldest. It is also the second-oldest sporting competition in South Africa after rugby’s Currie Cup, which was first played for in 1893.

The tournament was a 36-hole event until 1908 when it became 72 holes. However, for the next 60 years, it was a three-day event as 36 holes were played on the final day. It was only at the 1969 event at Durban Country Club that it became a four-day event – the format it still maintains today.

In 1997, the European Tour co-sanctioned the event for the first time. Fiji’s Vijay Singh won that year at Glendower Golf Club, and the tournament has remained co-sanctioned ever since. The tournament has grown over the years and now offers an impressive total prize fund of R17.5-million.

Over four decades, Gary Player won an astonishing 13 SA Open titles which is comfortably the most of any golfer. He and Bobby Locke hold the record for the most consecutive wins with five. Locke also holds the record for being the youngest winner courtesy of his triumph in 1935 when he was just 17, while Sid Brews is the oldest champion with his title in 1952 having come at the age of 53.

In 2011 Hennie Otto claimed his maiden SA Open title to continue South Africa’s dominance of the trophy since the turn of the century. Scotland’s Richie Ramsay broke an eight-year stranglehold that South African golfers had on the tournament when he won at Pearl Valley in 2009, but with Ernie Els winning in 2010 and Hennie Otto claiming victory a year later, the golfers from the Republic re-asserted their dominance.

But Sweden’s Henrik Stenson took the 2012 title from Coetzee at Serengeti and the 2013 title was won by Denmark’s Madsen by two strokes from Otto and Jbe’ Kruger. And along came Andy Sullivan in 2015 to break Charl Schwartzel’s heart with a play-off victory featuring one of the great shots of the South African Open from the trees on the left of the 18th fairway.

Brandon Stone wrested the trophy back for South Africa with his fine win in 2016, while Graeme Storm defeated Rory McIlroy in a play-off to win the 2017 title.

Chris Paisley of England beat Branden Grace by three shots in 2018, and Louis Oosthuizen finally got his shot when he took the last title at Randpark in December 2018.

South Africa’s national open has a long and prestigious history, and getting one’s name on such a trophy is a proud achievement for any golfer, regardless of nationality. It will thus be all to play for at Randpark as the players in the field this week will be after the lucrative winner’s cheque.

However, the player who lifts the trophy on Sunday will also join a wonderful list of champions and etch himself into golfing history.


The South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg gives hope to Soweto

7th January 2020

The South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg gives hope to Soweto

By Michael Vlismas

Dr Andrew Mlangeni remembers the day during the 26 years and four months that he was incarcerated on Robben Island when he found three golf balls that gave him hope. Three golf balls, hidden away in the long grass of a field he and his fellow political prisoners were clearing on the island. When he found them, he thought he was dreaming.

At Soweto Country Club on Monday this week, the 94-year-old Dr Mlangeni felt a similar sense of disbelief when the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg came to Soweto Country Club. The second oldest national Open in world golf hosted its official pro-am on his beloved golf course.

“Nobody ever dreamt that one day we’d play the SA Open pro-am in Soweto and on a golf course belonging to the people of Soweto. When I saw this, I said to myself there is nothing we cannot do if we all have a common goal,” says Dr Mlangeni.

The hope of working towards a better future sometimes appeared bleak for Dr Mlangeni during his time in prison. At one point he even admits that the game of golf he grew up loving seemed all but gone from his memory. And then he found those three golf balls.

“One day we were working in a field picking out clumps of grass. Then I picked up three golf balls. I thought it was a dream. I worried about how I was going to get them into my cell because they would search us, and I needed those golf balls to remind me of the game. I couldn’t understand where the balls came from because the grass was so tall. But then years later, when Tokyo Sexwale was being interviewed by the media, he mentioned something about this nine-hole golf course on the island for the warders. Then I knew I hadn’t been dreaming when I found those golf balls,” he said.

And on Monday he reminded himself that he also wasn’t dreaming as he watched another historic occasion in the transformation of Soweto Country Club.

Dr Mlangeni was there for that first conversation with Sunshine Tour Commissioner Selwyn Nathan, who outlined his vision to the oldest surviving member of Soweto Country Club to give the people of Soweto a golf course they can be proud of and which is good enough to host a major tournament.

With the support of original course designer Gary Player, who upgraded the golf course at no cost, as well as the City of Joburg, The R&A, the PGA Tour, the European Tour and a wealth of private and corporate benefactors, Soweto Country Club has already hosted a Sunshine Ladies Tour professional tournament and now the pro-am of a major international golf tournament. It is also home to a South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) chapter named after Dr Mlangeni.

All of it is another powerful representation of the Sunshine Tour’s core statement that #Gr8nessBeginsHere – whether it’s the greatness of a future Major champion emerging from this Tour, or the greatness of what has taken place at Soweto Country Club.

And in the mind of Dr Mlangeni, it represents even the greatness in the potential of South Africa.

“If we don’t work together, we won’t be successful. So, to the people who want to leave South Africa, I would say please learn from those who left and came back. Come back home. This country belongs to all of us who are South African. Let’s build it together.”

And it’s given him renewed hope that at the age of 94 and still recovering from several serious health setbacks, he will again play golf on these fairways.

“I’m losing my eyesight and my hearing has also been affected. The doctors told me I need to remember I’m 94 and not a young man anymore. Then I had an issue with my leg. I said to myself when my leg heals, I want to play again. But I am worried about my eyesight. My brother-in-law said to me, ‘Don’t worry. Practice just a little bit every day and don’t worry. Remember, bietjie bietjie maak baie (little by little becomes a lot). Keep on practising every day’. So that’s what I’ll do. I’m really hopeful I will play golf again.”

It’s the same hope that carried him when he found those three golf balls on Robben Island. When he was released from prison, he still had those three golf balls with him. He took them straight to Soweto Country Club and used them to play his first round of golf as a free man.

And he knew he wasn’t dreaming.