Schietekat shoots 62 to lead Gauteng Champs presented by Betway

19th March 2021

Schietekat shoots 62 to lead Gauteng Champs presented by Betway

Neil Schietekat added to the incredible run of low scoring on the Sunshine Tour at the moment as he signed for a 62, including a first nine of 29, to lead the Gauteng Championship presented by Betway by a single stroke heading into the weekend at the Ebotse Links.

Schietekat carded only the second 29 on the Sunshine Tour this year, following Daniel van Tonder’s 29 in the third round of The Players Championship at Dainfern last week, and finished Friday’s second round top of the leaderboard on 13 under par.

“Everybody is shooting really low scores at the moment and I knew I’d have to go low to be at the top of the leadeboard,” said Schietekat.

CJ du Plessis and Tristen Strydom are currently second on 12 under following respective rounds of 64 and 68, while Martin Rohwer is next best on 11 under after signing for a 66. Jean Hugo is well-placed at three shots off the lead going into the weekend.

But Friday was clearly Schietekat’s turn to add to the surfeit of low scores on the Tour since the resumption of its schedule this month.

“The course was set up for it today. The greens and fairways are soft, and the tees were forward. As is always the case with Ebotse, if there is a bit of a breeze it makes it tougher. But that said, there are some low numbers out there at the moment,” he said.

Teeing off the 10th, Schietekat parred the first and then let loose, making seven birdies in his next eight holes. After the turn, he birdied the first, third and eighth holes to top the leaderboard.

Schietekat has been on an upward curve, finishing 27th and 10th in his last two tournaments. He’s won three times on the Sunshine Tour, two of which came in 2018. And last year he had two runner-up finishes. He also has the confidence of having earned his playing privileges on the Asian Tour, and was looking forward to competing there before that Tour was suspended because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Getting my card in Asia has given me a lot of confidence. I played one event there and then Covid hit. But I took the break as an opportunity to make some changes to my swing, and it’s paying off.” –  Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

Tristen tops on day one in Gauteng Championship presented by Betway

18th March 2021

Tristen tops on day one in Gauteng Championship presented by Betway

Tristen Strydom’s consistent rise in form carried him to the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Gauteng Championship presented by Betway at the Ebotse Links on Thursday.

Strydom opened with a bogey-free eight-under-par 64 to lead the field by a single stroke in this Sunshine Tour event. He turned at three under, and then made four consecutive birdies from the 10th and finished with a birdie on 18 to take the lead.

Kyle Barker is his nearest challenger after a first round of 65.

Jaco Prinsloo, last week’s winner of the Players Championship at Dainfern, was tied for the lead with Strydom playing the par-five 18th, but double-bogeyed the hole to finish the day on six under with a 66. It was a disappointing end to a round that saw him climb the leaderboard with six consecutive birdies over the turn as he continued the form that earned him his second Sunshine Tour title last week.

But Strydom has long been hungry to translate his prodigious amateur success into professional success on the Sunshine Tour since he turned professional in 2017, and feels he edging ever closer to that goal.

“It was a great way to start. I haven’t been starting tournaments too well of late, and it’s good to get those first round woes oout of the way. We’ve been playing tournaments for three weeks now and the first couple of events there was still a bit of rust. But today I was really comfortable. I really putted well and holed some nice putts. No bogeys also helps.”

Since the Tour’s return following lockdown in August last year, Strydom has been making a strong push for a maiden Sunshine Tour title and came close in last September’s Titleist Championship on the Rise-Up Series before finishing second to George Coetzee. This year he’s been on an upward curve, finishing tied ninth in the Kit Kat Group Pro-Am and then tied sixth in the Players Championship.

But Strydom is not about to get ahead of himself after the first round.

“I’m just trying to control what I can. That’s my mindset. I’m not too worried about results but more concerned with sticking to what I believe in and enjoy. I refreshed my body and mind in December and it’s been good to play without any doubts in my mind. It’s only the first day so I won’t make too much of it yet.”

The 55-year-old James Kingston is also continuing his resurgence. After challenging for the lead in last week’s Players Championship before falling back on the weekend to eventually finish tied 27th, the former European Tour campaigner started strong again at Ebotse. Kingston opened with a bogey-free six-under-par 66 that places him tied third with Prinsloo and Paul Boshoff.

Michael Hollick scored the first hole-in-one of the week during an adventurous opening round. Hollick’s three-over-par 75 included three birdies, two bogeys, three double bogeys, and his ace. – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

Gifted Hugo proud of his ongoing Sunshine Tour success

17th March 2021

Gifted Hugo proud of his ongoing Sunshine Tour success

By Michael Vlismas

Jean Hugo is often named as one of the most naturally gifted professionals on the Sunshine Tour, even by his peers. But to describe him only as a “natural talent” who has never had to work hard at his craft would be to miss the finer details of what has made him one of the most consistent champions in Sunshine Tour history.

Hugo ranks sixth on the Sunshine Tour’s list of all-time winners. In the context of this week’s Gauteng Championship presented by Betway which tees off at the Ebotse Links on Thursday, Hugo perfectly represents Gauteng’s slogan as “The Home of Champions”.

The 45-year-old won everything he could locally as an amateur, including the South African Amateur in 1998 and 1999. He represented the country as a member of a 1998 Eisenhower Team that included Trevor Immelman, and in a tournament which that year included Luke Donald, Aaron Baddeley, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar.

In 1999 he finished ninth in the South African Open at Stellenbosch Golf Club, while still an amateur. He ended that week one shot behind Ernie Els and Thomas Björn, and five shots behind champion David Frost. He turned professional after this, making his debut in no less than The Open at Carnoustie that year but missing the cut.

A month later Hugo finished fourth in the Challenge Tour’s Norwegian Open. Back home on the Sunshine Tour he won the Zimbabwe Open in his rookie season. In 2000, a victory and four top-10s on the Challenge Tour earned Hugo his European Tour card, bypassing the gruelling experience of Qualifying School. As they say in the classics, he went straight to the ‘Big Show’.

He has had eight top-10s on the European Tour, but has yet to win there. And he has won 19 times on the Sunshine Tour, the most prolific of which was in 2010 and 2011 when he won six times. In one of those, the 2010 Vodacom Origins of Golf at Copperleaf, he shot a final round of 62 to beat Charl Schwartzel by one stroke.

But Hugo offers incredible insight to the notion that all of this has been fuelled only by the kind of natural talent Ernie Els once admitted surpassed even his own.

“When I was younger and turned pro in 1999, the game felt easy and exciting. I couldn’t wait to turn pro just to see how good I was compared with the rest. Winning my first event on the Sunshine Tour in 1999 felt natural, and it felt like I belonged. It came easy. But I was never over-confident. So I’ve obviously been blessed with natural talent, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t work at it,” he says.

“The difference is, I didn’t have to work that hard when I was younger. When I was young I could win when I didn’t have my A game. I’ve never had a swing coach or video analysis of my swing. I’ve always played by feel, and still do. It just came naturally.”

Hugo is the boy who, with his brother, discovered golf by pure chance.

“Nobody in my immediate family played golf. Then one December holiday we went and stayed with my grandparents in Humansdorp. My grandfather’s neighbour was a golfer. He gave my brother and I a five iron and a few balls, and we would go down to the Gamtoos River, which was mostly a dry riverbed, and hit balls. That’s how it started.”

Another common misconception about Hugo is that he’s the guy who loves his braai and a brandy and Coke, and the next day can just waltz onto the first tee and shoot a little 62.

It’s definitely not an analogy Hugo agrees with, but he’s made peace with the fact that this is often how he’s viewed.

“I’m not a dop and golf guy. I’d love to lose that tag of being a natural golfer who doesn’t work hard, but I suppose misconceptions are part of the game. I have balance, because that’s what my father taught me. He always used to say you can do what you like as long as you have balance. So go out with your friends, but make sure your homework is done for school the next day. I’m able to enjoy myself off the course, but it doesn’t get in the way of my preparation because I have a job to do when I get out there.”

In a sense, it’s reminiscent of Els himself. Despite the tag of being a man who loves life and lives large, those close to Els will tell you nobody works harder at the game than he does, or spends more time practising than he does.

In the case of Hugo, that early blaze of talent and success created an expectation amongst his fans, which perhaps they feel has not been met. Hugo admits he thinks about this himself, but has no regrets.

“If I worked then like I do now, maybe I could’ve done better. I would’ve loved to have been better at what I did when I was younger. You always have the what-ifs about the European Tour.

To be honest at that stage I didn’t even think about the PGA Tour. I was offered two bursaries to colleges in the United States, but turned them down to stay here and study in Stellenbosch. Remember, golf wasn’t as big a school sport then as it is now. When I was at school, our Science teacher would kind of be the golf coach or in charge of golf. It was a different time. I should’ve gone to the US, because at Maties I played rugby and wasn’t just focusing on golf like I would’ve done in the United States. It was quite daunting for me to go and study overseas. But I don’t have regrets.”

And, with a Sunshine Tour career that has earned him almost R12 million in prize money, he also has no desire to chase a European Tour dream now either.

“For me, right now, I don’t need to be overseas. I don’t feel the pull to go to the European Tour or Qualifying School. You know, a Tour School card is very hard to keep because you only get limited starts and in the smaller tournaments.”

In his last year on the European Tour in 2016, Hugo played 18 tournaments. He made the cut in eight of them, with one top-10, and earned a little over R1.5 million for his efforts. In comparison, in 2015 on the Sunshine Tour, the 21 tournaments he played earned him just under R1.2 million. While the rewards at the highest international level are obviously far greater, the sums Hugo was doing weren’t adding up in terms of the effort involved to play overseas.

“I kind of lost a bit of interest going back there. For now, I’m living life in South Africa and enjoying raising my kids, Victor (8) and Daniel (6). I think I’m as good a golfer as I was, and I just feel blessed to still compete. For me, it’s about going out there and proving my worth on the Sunshine Tour.”

The game has certainly changed, and he’s witnessed this.

“It’s changed a lot in terms of the equipment. I can’t shape the ball like I used to because the equipment doesn’t allow it. I’m a shotmaker, and I enjoy shaping the ball. While still an amateur, I once had the opportunity to play a round with Gary Player at Erinvale. Mr Player was shaping all of these shots, and I could do the same and enjoyed it. I just couldn’t explain how to do it. I’m not a very technical golfer. But my feeling is that for all the aspects of your game to be competitive, you need a feel for every shot. That’s talent. That’s golf. We forget how to just play the game and want to be so technical.”

It’s this kind of wisdom that Hugo enjoys passing on to some of the younger stars on Tour, many of whom gravitate to him.

“I have a lot of young friends on Tour because I like helping where I can. And we’ve got such stars out there like Garrick Higgo, Jayden Schaper, Wilco Nienaber and others. Hennie du Plessis is also something very special. If we can support them and get them out there, it’s only going to be good for our Tour.”

And as he prepares to tackle the youngsters yet again in this week’s Gauteng Championship presented by Betway, Hugo does so as a man very much content with his life.

“I often still look at my trophies and tournaments I’ve won for inspiration. When I see that, it’s amazing for me. I’ve had a good career. I’ve got a great life now and want to see my kids grow up. I’m a happy golfer and a happy dad. Happy and blessed.”

Photo Credit: Carl Fourie/Sunshine Tour

Pros bring relief with Birdies for Kit Kat Group

15th March 2021

Pros bring relief with Birdies for Kit Kat Group

The Sunshine Tour’s professionals are helping to bring much-needed relief to communities which have been hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Through the Birdies for Kit Kat Group initiative, the professionals have helped to donate an incredible 2 543 food hampers that are being distributed to the South African Caddie Association (SACA), the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB), and FeedSA.

The Birdies for Kit Kat Group campaign teed off at the Kit Kat Group Pro-Am and forms part of the Sunshine Tour’s ongoing effort to bring an element of social consciousness to its tournaments.

Throughout the current run of seven tournaments on the Sunshine Tour, every birdie made by a professional golfer will count towards one food hamper.

“The Kit Kat Group is an extremely socially responsible company. They have been working hard, together with local NGOs, to distribute food hampers to areas that have been hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic,” says Thomas Abt, Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour.

“As a Tour we are grateful for the opportunity to partner with them in making a difference in the rebuilding of South African communities during this pandemic.”

Prinsloo powers in playoff to win Players Championship

14th March 2021

Prinsloo powers in playoff to win Players Championship

Jaco Prinsloo won on the third hole of a three-way playoff in a frantic final-round chase to Players Championship glory at Dainfern Golf Estate on Sunday.

On a day not for the faint-hearted as the final groups attacked the leaderboard with red numbers, Jaco Prinsloo, Jake Roos and Daniel van Tonder all finished regulation play tied for the lead on 25 under.

Playing the par-five 18th again, both Prinsloo and Van Tonder eagled the hole as Roos fell out. That took the two of them back to 18. Prinsloo showed absolute nerves of steel as his second found the greenside bunker, and he then pitched out to within three feet to make birdie. Van Tonder matched him with a birdie of his own, taking them back to 18 again.

Van Tonder pulled his drive, but then produced an incredible shot from the left rough to just short of the green. He chipped to about six feet, but missed his birdie putt. That left Prinsloo to hole his two-foot putt for birdie and his second Sunshine Tour victory.

“The playoff was almost the easier part. Just getting there was more nerve-wracking,” said a relieved Prinsloo.

“Jake, Daniel and myself are all good friends, and luckily today I came out on top. To get this title is very special. I have to thank the Sunshine Tour for making this tournament possible. I love this golf course and the whole atmosphere here.”

It was hardly surprising that four incredible days of low-scoring golf should end in a playoff for this Sunshine Tour event.

The leading players never relented on the final day as they kept building on the lead with a slew of birdies. And the closing holes again provided the opportunities.

Roos birdied two of the final three holes for a 63 and to set the clubhouse target at 25 under par. Van Tonder then eagled the par-five 18th for the second day in succession to join him on 25 under with a final round of 65. And Prinsloo had the greatest opportunity of all as he stood over an eagle putt on 18 to win outright. But the miss and resultant birdie earned him a 65 and the final place in the three-way playoff.

Thriston Lawrence closed with the low round of the week, a brilliant 62 that saw him birdie six of the last seven holes. He finished tied fourth on 22 under par alongside Jean Hugo.

The Sunshine Tour remains in Gauteng this week for the R1-million Gauteng Championship presented by Betway at the Ebotse Links. – Michael Vlismas

Photos: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

Van Tonder, Bekker, Prinsloo in chase for Players Championship glory

13th March 2021

Van Tonder, Bekker, Prinsloo in chase for Players Championship glory

Daniel van Tonder finished birdie-eagle for a back nine of 29 and a 63 that shot him into a three-way tie for the lead going into Sunday’s final round of the Sunshine Tour’s Players Championship at Dainfern Golf Estate.

Van Tonder led another day of low scoring that finished with him on 18 under par. Jaco Prinsloo joined him there with a 66 after lipping out for an eagle on the last that would’ve given him the sole lead. And Oliver Bekker completed the trio with his bogey-free 67.

They are two strokes clear of Jacques Kruyswijk and Jake Roos.

But with the kind of scoring this tournament has seen – including a halfway cut of six under par – the three leaders are all in agreement that there is no holding back on the final day.

“This course isn’t that long so most of the holes are birdie holes. But saying that, you’ve still got to hit the fairways here because the rough is thick,” said Van Tonder, who has been in great form since the Tour resumed last August following the lockdown. He won four times in 2020, including three of the five tournaments on the Sunshine Tour’s Rise-Up Series last year.

“It’s going to feel like a shoot-out on the final day,” added Bekker. “You can’t play defensively because every hole is an opportunity to score. In the third round I just didn’t really capitalise on the front nine, and then finally made something happen on the back nine.”

The feeling was shared by Prinsloo.

“This course gives you the opportunities. I think it will help if you can get off to a fast start in the final round and try and keep the rest of the field at bay, but having said that, it usually comes down to the final few holes on the back nine.” – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

Roos ready to ‘Go Big’ on weekend at Dainfern

12th March 2021

Roos ready to ‘Go Big’ on weekend at Dainfern

Jake Roos says he is at the stage of his career when it’s a case of “Go big or go home”. After rounds of 65 and 63 to lead the Sunshine Tour’s Players Championship by three strokes going into the weekend at Dainfern Golf Estate, he’s clearly going big.

For the second day in succession Roos played bogey-free golf and he tops the leaderboard on 16 under par with 36 holes remaining.

Oliver Bekker is his nearest challenger on 13 under following a second round of 66, while Jean Hugo and Jaco Prinsloo are both next best on 12 under following respective second rounds of 64 and 67.

On Friday, Roos gave himself some much-needed distance at the top of a previously cluttered leaderboard. And a new grip, new putter and new mindset are all working in Roos’s favour on a course that is rewarding aggressive play.

“I’m at the stage in my career where it’s kind of go big or go home now. In a sense that frees you up and you can just go for the shots out there and not think about it too much,” said the six-time Sunshine Tour winner.

“I’m quite surprised that the scores are this good. It shows that everybody has been practising hard in the lockdown. For me it’s been a nice two days. The first round was solid and it’s not always easy to follow that up. But I felt good again and just managed to keep it flowing. It’s been a combination of things I think. I’ve changed my grip a bit and weakened my right hand. I’ve also changed my putter. It’s all helped. I’m very pleased,” said Roos.

And he’s determined not to take his eye off the ball this weekend.

“I’ll just keep going. I’ve got some good players behind me. There’s lots of talent on this Tour, and on this kind of course everybody is going to make a lot of birdies. So I’ll just try and keep going.” – Michael Vlismas

Photo: Tyrone Winfield/Sunshine Tour

Van Den Berg back in the mix at Players Championship

11th March 2021

Van Den Berg back in the mix at Players Championship

Ulrich van den Berg turned back the clock and signed for a bogey-free round of eight-under-par 64 to share the first-round lead with Jared Harvey in the Sunshine Tour’s Players Championship at Dainfern Golf Estate on Thursday.

They are one stroke clear of Jacques Blaauw, Ruan Conradie, Jaco Prinsloo, Steve Surry, Jake Roos, Oliver Bekker, James Kingston and Roberto Lupini who all opened with rounds of 65.

It was an opening day of aggressive scoring on a golf course suited to that game, and Van Den Berg certainly took advantage to put himself back at the top of a Sunshine Tour leaderboard for the first time in a while.

Van Den Berg followed a decorated amateur career with seven victories on the Sunshine Tour, his last coming in 2013. But a hip injury that eventually required surgery in 2019 kept him away from the game for all of that year, and he’s spent a large part of recent months working more than playing golf.

“By the time I had the hip operation in March 2019 I was very badly inhibited in terms of my swing,” said Van Den Berg.

“The hip op put me out for the rest of that year. But fortunately it was a successful operation. I am now playing pain-free golf for the first time in a while, and it feels amazing. It feels like I have a new lease on my career.”

Van Den Berg has certainly shown a welcome return to form of late. He finished second in the Betway Championship on the Sunshine Tour’s Rise-Up Series after the lockdown last year. He then had a share of fourth in the Vodacom Championship Unlocked on the same series.

The Johannesburg professional teed off the 10th on Thursday and opened with a birdie. He added a further three birdies to the turn, and then came home with two birdies and an eagle.

“I’m thrilled with the round.It was just a really steady round of golf, and I putted very well. I’ve also had past success at Dainfern so the comfort level here is high for me. I’m just enjoying myself out there.”

In the group behind him, the 55-year-old Kingston is hoping to show up the younger players on Tour over the next three rounds.

And Conradie is certainly relishing the current run of tournaments on the Sunshine Tour. “It’s really nice to get that rhythm going where you are playing for a few weeks in a row, and then to get a low round like this in there. It’s just nice to get going again and find some normality,” he said.

The boy from Brazil who chased his Sunshine Tour dream

10th March 2021

The boy from Brazil who chased his Sunshine Tour dream

By Michael Vlismas

Adilson da Silva belongs to a time in golf the likes of which we will probably never see again. A time when a young Brazilian boy from a humble family in Santa Cruz do Sol outside Rio collected golf balls and caddied for pocket money, and used a tree branch shaped like a golf club as his first bit of equipment in the game.

This week, in The Players Championship at Dainfern Golf Estate starting on Thursday, Da Silva will tee it up as a 49-year-old professional universally respected by his fellow pros for his humility, his 12 Sunshine Tour titles, and for being possibly the greatest gentleman in this gentleman’s game.

For Da Silva, it’s a journey built by some good fortune and a lot of hard work.

“Growing up it was very difficult in Brazil,” he says. “My parents didn’t have much. They did their best for us, but my father was a carpenter and my mother didn’t really have just one job. I have three brothers and one sister. We were a big family and my parents were under pressure. So if you wanted anything extra, you had to work for it yourself. After school I would go to the golf course to look for balls or caddie jobs. You lived and worked just for the next day, and it was hard. But once I came in contact with golf, things changed quite a bit for me.”

It was as a young caddie at the local golf course that Da Silva met Andrew Edmondson, a tobacco buyer from Zimbabwe who used to travel to Brazil for his work. Da Silva started out as Edmondson’s caddie, and then became his playing partner during a few rounds. And it was Edmondson who first spotted Da Silva’s talent and encouraged it.

Da Silva won the Brazil Amateur Championship in 1990 and 1991, and Edmondson convinced him to travel back to Zimbabwe with him where he could receive proper coaching.

“I was really fortunate to get that opportunity. In Brazil in those days, it was almost impossible to get into golf if you didn’t have money. You had to buy what we called a title at a golf club. Golf in Brazil in those days was a very closed society. So I was very fortunate to get a chance to move away from there and do something in this incredible game.”

And he didn’t waste any time either.

Da Silva won the Zimbabwe Amateur in 1992 as well as a bunch of other tournaments, then turned professional in 1994 and was already winning qualifying tournaments on the winter leg of the Sunshine Tour in his rookie year. In 1997 he made his breakthrough, winning the Leopard Rock Classic by four strokes with rounds of 64, 69 and 66. A year later he added his second title, the Nashua Wild Coast Sun Challenge. His most recent victory was on the Asian Tour in the 2018 Taiwan Masters.

“It’s been such an experience for me,” says Da Silva as he reflects on a journey on the Sunshine Tour where he’s witnessed some of the biggest stars develop their games. And last weekend in the Kit Kat Group Pro-Am, he played with another which he believes could be just as big.

“I played the final round of the Kit Kat Group Pro-Am with Wilco Nienaber. On the final green I just had to tell him what a privilege it was to play with him. You just don’t get to see that kind of talent every day. I once played a tournament in Malaysia with a long drive champion, and I told Wilco he’s in a league of his own with his long drives. I watched him hit that first drive on the first tee and I could hardly see the ball coming off the clubhead it was so fast. And he just nailed it 380 metres down the middle of the fairway. Already at this age he has everything, and I think he’s going to be unbeatable.”

But Da Silva says he’s become used to seeing this kind of talent on the Sunshine Tour.

“It’s just insane how good the golfers are here. It’s amazing the golf talent in this country. For me to be here and still playing amongst this kind of talent just makes you better and makes you want to work harder on your own game.”

Such is Da Silva’s humility that he won’t even entertain the thought that it just might be a privilege for the young stars of today to be playing with him, considering the longevity of his career.

“Look, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve done okay. But you look back and you think that maybe you could’ve done better. I wish in the past I had worked harder on my mental game, because this game is all mental. But I’m happy with myself. I enjoy practicing and getting better. If I could stay on the range for five or six hours a day I would because I enjoy it so much.”

But as a husband and father of three, Da Silva is very aware to not neglect that side of life he also enjoys.

“I’ve been on the road for over 25 years, and this period during lockdown and all of that is the longest time I’ve been at home. It’s been a pleasure actually. It’s not an easy life being on tour all the time. You can’t complain because it’s work and it’s a nice work to have. But it’s a lonely life at times.”

With one year to go until he becomes a senior, Da Silva has his sights set on the PGA Tour Champions.

But whatever he goes on to still achieve, one moment will forever remain possibly the greatest highlight of his career.

In 2016 when Brazil hosted the Olympics, Da Silva was selected to hit the first shot in the Olympic golf competition which marked the return of the game to the Olympic fold for the first time in over a century.

“That was insane. I was so nervous. I couldn’t sleep for three nights before. It still gives me goosebumps to have had that honour. I was very tense right up until a few seconds before I hit that ball. Then I got control of myself and just enjoyed it. I don’t know why they chose me. There were so many other great golfers that deserved it more than me.”

And yet if you know Da Silva, you’ll know the game couldn’t have had a greater gentleman to represent it at such an auspicious occasion. The boy from Brazil who took a tree branch and a golf ball, and went after his dream.

Photo Credit: Carl Fourie/Sunshine Tour

Eleven years later, PLAYERS triumph remains sweet for Tim Clark 1

Eleven years later, PLAYERS triumph remains sweet for Tim Clark

By Jim McCabe

Memories easily fade in our mad-rush, 24 hours per day, seven days per week world. And when you factor in the numbing COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the globe for more than a year now, well, there’s not a lot of time that’s been saved for nostalgia.

Which is a shame when one considers the superb talents that were once in the possession of Tim Clark, but are now covered in cobwebs, a victim of unfortunate happenstance. Gutty as it was that Clark rose to PGA Tour prominence despite being born with a left arm that could not be extended (thus he could not supinate), his career deserves more than anniversary footnotes:

To wit:

The upcoming PLAYERS Championship will be the 10th one competed since Clark posted a stirring come-from-behind victory in 2010. And it was just five years ago – the 2016 American Express in Palm Springs, California — when Clark played what might very well be his final PGA Tour tournament.

Surreal, such a consideration for a world-class ball-striker to not play beyond the age of 40. But that is sadly where Clark stands.

“With my back, I’m not playing any golf at all. I tried (more than a month ago), but it wasn’t good at all. I can chip and putt, but no full swings,” said Clark, 45, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife, Candice, and two children, Jack and Olivia.

“I cannot even play socially.”

So much of this could be digested and shaped into a pity for Clark, only the South African brushes that aside. Feeling blessed to have played at the highest level of professional golf for nearly 15 years, he won twice on the PGA Tour, piled up 54 top-10 finishes, competed in three Presidents Cups, and was a brilliantly straight driver of the golf ball who knew his limitations and never uttered a word of complaint.

“What I did with what I had, I’m very proud of,” said Clark. “Looking back, I was able to stay on Tour for as long as I was and to be competitive, and that’s a sense of accomplishment.

“All of us look back at things we didn’t do, how we didn’t win as much as we’d like, but when I look back at my career, I never once had to struggle to secure my card. I wanted to play longer, and I felt like I was getting better, but obviously it didn’t play out that way.”

When they gather at TPC Sawgrass for the 2021 PLAYERS Championship March 11-14, there will be opportunities to recall a list of heralded winners from recent years – Matt Kuchar in 2012, Tiger Woods in 2013, followed by Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, then Webb Simpson in 2018 and Rory McIlroy in the most recent PLAYERS, in 2019. (The 2020 tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Stellar star power, for sure, and Clark – unlike Woods and Kaymer and Day and McIlroy – never was No. 1 in the world. But neither was he ever an afterthought, not with his ability to ball-strike it with the best of them.

“He is a proper competitor, that one,” Geoff Ogilvy once said of Clark. “He is competitive. He’s impressive when he gets down the stretch.”

Never did the competitive fires in the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Clark burn quite like they did during the 2010 PLAYERS. Having stood seven shots back through 36 holes, he fired a third-round 66 and started Sunday’s final round just three off the lead.

“I had been on Tour nine years hadn’t won at that point,” said Clark. “I was saying to myself, ‘Is this ever going to happen?”

THE PLAYERS Stadium Course was firm and fast that May week, perfect for Clark, who rarely missed fairways and never felt overwhelmed by a golf course, even as the era of the bombers was taking hold.

“I always felt, I was as good with my hybrid (or long iron) as my competitor was with his 6-iron.”

He had come into the tournament playing “quite poorly, to be honest,” but as he got settled into a rhythm, Clark found “my own little world.”

When Clark made an 8-footer at the 18th hole to shoot a final-round 67, he was 16-under and settled into the locker room with the lead and a TV view of the two players, Lee Westwood and Robert Allenby, who could catch him.

They quickly squandered things away. Westwood, the 54-hole leader, hit into the water at the par-3 17th island green and made double. Allenby, needing to play at 2-under over the final three holes to tie, burned the cup at the par-5 16th with his eagle putt, and could not birdie either 17 or 18.

Finally, Clark was a PGA Tour winner.

“I always felt I could play the big tournaments,” he said. “I enjoyed the big events. And that week was as good as I could play.”

There would be a second win at the RBC Canadian Open in 2014, then late that fall in an ultimate David vs. Goliath playoff, Clark was beaten by Bubba Watson in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China. Seemingly on top of his game, the dynamo from Durban seemed poised for another solid run of golf.

Little did he know it was about to come to a crashing halt.

Clark played in just 13 tournaments in the 2014-15 season, his play limited because of a pulled tendon in his left elbow. Feeling healthy in 2015-16, he was excited to get going, only to start feeling issues with his back.

“I didn’t know what was wrong, so I kept going out, trying to play,” said Clark. “We took a series of MRIs and all they showed was arthritis in the spine.”

He took injections. He was hopeful. He headed to Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, “a place I could play blindfolded,” and shot 66-69-65-68, finished joint 13th and was optimistic that he had turned the corner.

Instead, he played one more tournament, rounds of 78—68-74 in Palm Springs. The back pain was insufferable. He went to the sidelines and, unthinkable as it is, has never returned to competition since.

“I’ve seen different doctors and a team of surgeons. We’ve looked at the images and exhausted all the options,” said Clark.

Surgery has been proposed, one suggestion being to remove part of his ribs where they attach to the spine. “But there’s no guarantee,” said Clark. “It’s not a surgery done very often. It’s the only thing they think they can do, but they aren’t sure it will help.

“At the end of the day, I ask myself, ‘Is it worth the risk?’”

For now, the answer is no. Clark will pursue physical therapy and “I’ll continue to try certain things” to alleviate the pain. He always saw his 50th birthday as an opportunity he’d jump at and Clark remains optimistic that the PGA TOUR Champions will be in his future.

“But the bottom line is, I have to be healthy.” – Photo courtesy of Getty Images.