Bezuidenhout loving being an Olympian

31st July 2021

Bezuidenhout loving being an Olympian

As Christiaan Bezuidenhout heads into the final round of the Olympic Golf competition leading Team South Africa’s challenge, the Sunshine Tour star has said he cannot speak more highly of his Olympic experience, the Japanese hospitality, and the privilege it’s been to represent his country on the greatest sporting stage of all.

“It’s been great,” Bezuidenhout said after his third round of 68 that places him tied 17th on seven under par and seven shots off the lead of American Xander Schauffele on 14 under par.

“Living in the (Olympic) village has been great. It’s a cool experience to be part of the whole setup there and everyone involved there, all the athletes from different countries. All in all my experience has been great so far and it’s been a privilege to be part of Team South Africa as well. The Japanese people are amazing. They’re doing a great job hosting this in this difficult time as well. Everything has just been great.”

Bezuidenhout has made steady progress in each round, but hasn’t been able to find his best form on the greens at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Tokyo.

“I haven’t read them well this week. They’re so perfect, so it’s difficult to read them. I just didn’t see the breaks. I mean, I’ve been hitting the ball well, so I’m just going to keep on doing that and give myself chances and hopefully the putter will warm-up.”

Garrick Higgo broke par for the first time this week with his third round of 70, placing him tied 46th on one under going into Sunday’s final round.

Photo: Christiaan Bezuidenhout of Team South Africa. Credit: Ben Jared/PGA TOUR/IGF.

Weather forces suspension of second round in Olympic golf

30th July 2021

Weather forces suspension of second round in Olympic golf

South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout had moved into a share of 15th place in the Olympic Golf competition when Friday’s second round was suspended because of thunderstorms at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Tokyo.

Bezuidenhout was on five under for the tournament and two under for his round and playing the 18th hole when the siren sounded. The second round will resume on Saturday morning.

Bezuidenhout’s fellow South African Garrick Higgo managed to complete his second round before the siren and posted another 71 to put him in the clubhouse on level par for the tournament and in a share of 47th place.

America’s Xander Schauffele holds the clubhouse lead on 11 under par following a sublime 63 on Friday. He is one stroke clear of Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz. Overnight leader Sepp Straka remains in contention on eight under par following a 71 on Friday.

Masters champion and home favourite Hideki Matsuyama moved into the top three and was eight under for the tournament with two holes still to play.

And Major champions Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry both climbed to seven under with respective second rounds of 66 and 65.

Photo: Garrick Higgo managed to complete his second round 71 before the suspension of play. Credit: Ben Jared/PGA TOUR/IGF.

Solid Olympic start for Bezuidenhout

29th July 2021

Solid Olympic start for Bezuidenhout

Sunshine Tour star Christiaan Bezuidenhout opened with a bogey-free round of three-under-par 68 to place him five strokes off the lead after the first round of the Olympic Golf competition at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Japan on Thursday.

Austria’s Sepp Straka, ranked 161st on the Official World Golf Ranking, led the field with a bogey-free eight-under-par 63 – equalling the Olympic golf record for lowest round – to earn himself a one-stroke lead over the field. It was a moment made even more sweet by the fact that his twin brother Sam caddied for him.

Bezuidenhout’s fellow South African, Garrick Higgo, began his Olympic journey with a level-par 71.

It was a low-scoring start to the competition as 47 golfers in the 60-man field shot par or better, and despite an over two-hour delay because of inclement weather.

“If you just put it in the fairway on this course you can really take advantage and I got hot with my irons, especially my short irons and wedges. I was really knocking down the flagstick and really tried to stay aggressive with those,” said Straka.

Vodacom Origins of Golf series back on Sunshine Tour

Vodacom Origins of Golf series back on Sunshine Tour

The Vodacom Origins of Golf series, the longest running series of tournaments on the Sunshine Tour, will be back on the Tour’s schedule in 2021 and 2022 after it had to be cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The five-tournament series will tee off in August, with the final tournament set to be played in 2022 and with a total of R5 million in prize money on offer throughout the series.

“We are delighted to welcome back the Vodacom Origins of Golf series to our schedule. Vodacom are one of our oldest partners on the Sunshine Tour and a loyal supporter of South African golf, and we’re extremely grateful for their ongoing support in these challenging times,” said Thomas Abt, Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour.

“The cancellation of last year’s Vodacom Origins of Golf series was beyond anybody’s control, and yet Vodacom still worked with us to host tournaments last year and give our members playing opportunities. But we are truly thrilled to welcome back the full Vodacom Origins of Golf series, which has been an important factor in the development of many of our leading professionals’ careers.”

The return of the popular pro-am series is a major boost for the Sunshine Tour. Since it first teed off in 2004, the Vodacom Origins of Golf series has been the backbone of the Sunshine Tour’s winter schedule and has provided stars such as Louis Oosthuizen, George Coetzee, Branden Grace and Justin Harding with some of their earliest professional titles.

The series has also established itself as one of the most influential in South African golf as it has supported the work of the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) with golf clinics at every tournament throughout the country, helped to raise millions for charity through its support of amongst others The Smile Foundation, the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Foundation, New Beginnings and several other charities, and supported many of the Sunshine Tour’s development and charity initiatives over the years.

“We are extremely pleased to announce the return of the Vodacom Origins of Golf series to the Sunshine Tour. As the longest running series of tournaments on the Tour, we are immensely proud of the role it has played in the history of the Sunshine Tour and the careers of its leading professionals. But we’re equally proud of the contribution the series has made to the development of the game and charity,” said William Mzimba, Vodacom Business Chief Executive.

The series will tee off at De Zalze Golf Estate from 4-6 August. It will then travel to Sishen Golf Club from 26-28 August, followed by Durban Country Club from 16-18 September, and Humewood Golf Club from 1-3 October. The final will be played in 2022 with the date and venue to be announced in due course.

Jaco Beukes, Chief Executive of FLOOID, the rights owners of the Vodacom Origins of Golf series, confirmed that the first tournament at De Zalze Golf Club will not feature the traditional pro-am element as an ongoing precaution in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“After extensive consultation with the Sunshine Tour and Vodacom as well as the relevant health authorities, we’ve decided not to host a pro-am element for the first tournament in light of the current Covid-19 situation in the country. We’ll continue to monitor this over the coming tournaments and take a decision on those as and when applicable. But it remains the focus of FLOOID, Vodacom and the Sunshine Tour to ensure that all health protocols are strictly observed, and that we are able to play this year’s Vodacom Origins of Golf series in a safe and responsible way based on the number of successful Sunshine Tour tournaments that have already been hosted.”

Garrick Higgo is Walking in the Footsteps of Gary Player at the Olympics

27th July 2021

Garrick Higgo is Walking in the Footsteps of Gary Player at the Olympics

Garrick Higgo and Gary Player share a passion for golf and a bond forged by tragedy. Now, as Higgo prepares for the Olympics, he arrives at a venue where his legendary mentor experienced success more than six decades earlier.

Player has dispensed invaluable advice to Higgo in countless letters and phone calls. They first met when Higgo was around 9 years old, too young to realize Player’s place in the game. Now Higgo can’t speak highly enough about the impact the World Golf Hall of Famer has had on his career.

Higgo’s next stop is Japan’s Kasumigaseki Country Club, where he’ll represent South Africa in the Olympic Games after a rapid ascent in the world rankings.

“It’s pretty cool, especially at 22. It makes it even bigger,” Higgo said of the Olympics. “At the beginning of the year, it would have been cool to make it but I didn’t think I would. I was well out (of a spot in the Games). It just means I’ve done some things well on the golf course.”

That he has. Higgo was 117th in the world ranking in mid-April. Then he won three times in a span of five worldwide starts to leap into the top 50 and earn his Olympics berth. That run included his first PGA TOUR victory, in the Palmetto Championship at Congaree.

The Olympic venue is the same course where Player represented their homeland in another important international competition: the 1957 Canada Cup. That event, now known as the World Cup, featured 30 two-man teams from around the world.

Player was still early in his career when he tied Sam Snead for second place at Kasumigaseki. The tournament was Player’s first trip to Japan and further cemented his belief that he could compete on the biggest stages.

There are strong parallels between the paths that the mentor and mentee took to Kasumigaseki.

Player was days from turning 22 years old when he arrived at Kasumigaseki. He had just finished his first season on the PGA TOUR.

He remembers receiving $500 in traveler’s checks from his home country to defray his travel costs. The victory by the home team – which swept both the team and individual titles – sparked a golf boom in Japan.

“I was very impressed with the golf course, as well as the galleries,” Player recalled recently to PGATOUR.COM. “I loved the food, which in my opinion is the right kind of food to eat in order to live a long time. I enjoyed the efficiency, which is a way of life for the Japanese, and I was especially impressed by their work ethic.”

Higgo, who turned 22 in May, earned PGA TOUR status with his win at the Palmetto in June. He credits Player for helping him become the youngest player currently in the top 50 of the world ranking. Higgo calls Player “a tremendous mentor.” Some weeks, they speak after each of Higgo’s rounds.

“He calls me a lot. We chat. He’s helped me with my game,” Higgo said. “He’s been a big part of why I’ve … won a lot and the mental aspect of the game.”

One of the most impactful letters came early in their relationship, after Higgo lost his father in a car accident. Higgo was just 9 years old. Player, who lost his mother to cancer at a similar age, offered empathy and encouragement.

Higgo lived in Plettenberg Bay, where Player had a vacation home. They would play nine-hole rounds in the afternoon when Player was there on holiday. Player describes his protégé as “humble, keen to learn and a good listener.”

Higgo was South Africa’s top-ranked amateur by age 17. In the 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur, he beat Cole Hammer, who later became the world’s top-ranked amateur, in the Round of 16 before falling to Matthew Wolff on the 17th hole of their semifinal match. Higgo played for the International Team in that year’s Junior Presidents Cup (and is a strong candidate to play in the big-boy version just five years later). He started at UNLV, one of collegiate golf’s powerhouse programs, a few weeks later.

Higgo only spent a year in Las Vegas before deciding to return home. He turned pro in 2019 despite sitting outside the top 100 in the world amateur ranking.

“A lot of people didn’t think I should even turn professional,” Higgo said. “I wasn’t even winning amateur events, so they questioned why I was turning pro.”

He won his first start on South Africa’s developmental circuit, the Big Easy Tour, and added another victory in his next start on South Africa’s main tour, the Sunshine Tour. Last year, he won the Sunshine Tour’s Tour Championship and the Portugese Open, which earned him European Tour status.

Higgo overcame a six-shot deficit in the final round at Congaree to win his first PGA TOUR title. Player called him that Sunday with some more important advice.

“He told me he’s done it before quite a few times, the way he’s won from six behind, seven behind,” Higgo said. “He just said don’t think too much about what the other guys are doing, just kind of do your thing and stay up there, and you never know what could happen.”

Higgo’s Sunday 68 included a bogey-free back nine that was highlighted by an eagle at the par-5 12th. He was on the driving range, preparing for a possible playoff, as the final group of Chesson Hadley and Harris English struggled on Congaree’s back nine, shooting 38 and 40, respectively.

“I’m a very tough competitor,” Higgo said. “I don’t really get down on myself. It’s a cliché, but I try and stay in the fight.”

It’s a trait he shares with Player, who also turned pro as a teenager despite others’ doubts. Player won the 1956 South African Open, the Dunlop tournament in England and the richest prize in Australian golf at the Ampol. Just four years earlier, he was playing to a 24 handicap. One newspaper described his meteoric rise as “one of the most amazing success stories in golf.” Player recounted how his countrymen laughed at his unorthodox grip and flat swing. “You will never be a good golfer,” Player recalled some saying to him.

“That is why I had to succeed,” Player said after winning the Ampol. “Those people did not know the hours and hours I spent working out how to eliminate errors in my game.”

Player headed to the United States the following year to test himself at the highest level. Seeing how far the game’s top players hit the ball caused Player to intensify his now-famous exercise regimen, weaken his grip and learn how to carry the ball farther.

“I’d read about Ben Hogan and Sam Snead and other players of that time. I admired the United States so much and wanted to go there and try to beat the best,” Player recently told PGATOUR.COM.

Like Player, Higgo plans to play a global schedule. His wins around the world make it easier for him to pick where and when he plays. He was the first player since 1988 to win on the PGA TOUR in one of his first two career starts. He’s the only player since 1990 to win at least three times in his first 26 starts on the European Tour.

This week, he’ll be walking in the footsteps of his mentor at the world’s grandest sporting event, the Olympic Games. – Sean Martin/IGF

Oosthuizen denied by majestic Morikawa

18th July 2021

Oosthuizen denied by majestic Morikawa

Louis Oosthuizen’s disappointment was in contrast with Dylan Frittelli’s delight as those were the only two South African flags left flying in the top five by the end of the 149th Open at Royal St George’s on Sunday.

After three days of incredible golf, Oosthuizen was outplayed by Collin Morikawa and undone by his own cold putter as he watched the American march to victory.

Oosthuizen held the lead from day one and was one clear of the field going into the final round. But a closing 71 ended his hopes of a second Major as he finished tied third and four strokes behind Morikawa’s winning total of 15 under par.

Morikawa’s three successive birdies to close out the front nine took him into the lead, and a single birdie on the back nine was all he needed to claim the second Major of his career with a final round of 66 to become the first golfer in history to win two different Majors on debut after winning the PGA Championship in 2020. He finished two strokes clear of second-placed Jordan Spieth.

While Oosthuizen’s wait for a second Major continues, fellow South African Frittelli was delighted with his week at Royal St George’s.

Frittelli made the most of his late inclusion with a fifth-place finish on nine under par after closing with a 68. A performance he was justifiably very proud of.

“I got in on Monday morning and couldn’t have asked for much more. Just to be in contention on the weekend was my goal. I think I more than did that. I had a struggle on 11 today but besides that it was pretty plain sailing and I’m really proud of the way I handled everything. It gets me back in The Open the following year, so St Andrews is going to be awesome. I love that place and any Open Championship by me is tons of fun.”

Justin Harding finished tied 19th on four under, followed by JC Ritchie, Daniel van Tonder and Dean Burmester all in tied 40th on one under par. Christiaan Bezuidenhout finished tied 53rd on one over. – Sunshine Tour/European Tour/The Open

Oosthuizen chasing Open glory

Oosthuizen chasing Open glory

Louis Oosthuizen will take a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of The Open as he seeks to claim the second Major of his career at Royal St George’s.

Oosthuizen signed for a third round of 69 to climb to 12 under par, one stroke clear of Collin Morikawa and three ahead of Jordan Spieth.

The South African now has the chance to join an elite club of outright wire-to-wire winners of The Open. Since World War II, only three players have managed to win The Open by leading on their own from start to finish. They were Tom Weiskopf in 1973, Tiger Woods in 2005 and Rory McIlroy in 2014.

The rest of the South African challenge also still looks good, with Dylan Frittelli tied sixth on seven under par, and Justin Harding tied ninth on six under par.

“Finishing second isn’t great, so I will play my heart out and see if I can lift the Claret Jug again,” said Oosthuizen, who has a Grand Slam of runner-up finishes in the Majors, and who has finished second in the last two Majors this year alone.

“I think all of us are just human to think of lifting the trophy, and that’s going to be in your mind. But I think you just need to know it and how to handle it. Once we get on the golf course, it’s all golf. You need to believe that you can lift the trophy, as well, and if you think about it beforehand that you might win this championship, I think that’s great, and you have to believe you can do it.” – Sunshine Tour/European Tour/The Open

Record breaker Oosthuizen leads Open

16th July 2021

Record breaker Oosthuizen leads Open

Louis Oosthuizen stormed into the weekend of The Open in record fashion when he added a 65 to his opening 64 to set a 36-hole scoring record in this Major at Royal St George’s.

Oosthuizen’s halfway total of 11-under-par 129 is the lowest in the history of The Open and has earned him a two-stroke lead going into Saturday’s third round.

American Collin Morikawa is his nearest challenger, while Jordan Spieth is next best on eight under par.

Oosthuizen is joined in the top 10 by fellow South Africans Dylan Frittelli (-7), Daniel van Tonder (-6) and Justin Harding (-6).

Van Tonder worked his way into a dream position as he finds himself well in contention.

Van Tonder, playing in only the second Major of his career, signed for a second round of 66 on Friday to climb to six under par overall.

“I’m here for the weekend and just enjoying every moment,” said Van Tonder. “I’m very happy. I did leave a few putts out there but other than that I’m happy with my performance. I was in trouble a few times, but I managed to muscle it out of there and recover from that.”

“I made a birdie on the eighth and from there it just felt a bit easier, with me and my wife just agreeing on everything, you know. She trusts my aggressiveness on the course with a few shots. Other than that, I just enjoyed it.”

And Van Tonder has no problem with conditions becoming tricky on the weekend.

“As long as the wind keeps on blowing, I’m very happy about that.” – Sunshine Tour/European Tour/The Open

Van Tonder makes his move in Open

Van Tonder makes his move in Open

Daniel van Tonder has worked his way into a dream position going into the weekend of his first Open Championship and finds himself well in contention at Royal St George’s.

Van Tonder, playing in only the second Major of his career, signed for a second round of 66 on Friday to climb to six under par overall. At the time of writing he was only three strokes off the clubhouse lead of nine under held by American Collin Morikawa.

“I’m here for the weekend and just enjoying every moment,” said Van Tonder, who has been on an incredible run of form. Since winning the African Bank Sunshine Tour Championship in August 2020, Van Tonder went on to win another four titles in seven months including a maiden European Tour victory. That run earned him a spot in his first Major, this year’s PGA Championship, courtesy of an invitation from the PGA of America.

And now he’s contending in the oldest Major in golf.

“I’m very happy. I did leave a few putts out there but other than that I’m happy with my performance. I was in trouble a few times, but I managed to muscle it out of there and recover from that,” he said.

“I made a birdie on the eighth and from there it just felt a bit easier, with me and my wife just agreeing on everything, you know. She trusts my aggressiveness on the course with a few shots. Other than that, I just enjoyed it.”

And Van Tonder has no problem with conditions becoming tricky on the weekend.

“As long as the wind keeps on blowing, I’m very happy about that.”

Fellow South African Justin Harding also kept himself in contention with a 67 that saw him join Van Tonder on six under going into the weekend. Shaun Norris finished his day on three over for the championship after a 71. Jaco Ahlers came into the clubhouse on seven over par following his 79.

Overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen was amongst the later starters and is still busy with his round, as are Dean Burmester, Dylan Frittelli, Erik van Rooyen, JC Ritchie, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Branden Grace, Ernie Els and Garrick Higgo. – Sunshine Tour/European Tour/The Open

Oosthuizen in a Major chase for glory again

15th July 2021

Oosthuizen in a Major chase for glory again

Louis Oosthuizen made another strong push for a second Major when he shot to the top of the leaderboard on day one of The Open at Royal St George’s on Thursday.

Oosthuizen opened with a bogey-free six-under-par 64 on the par-70 English links to take the first-round lead by one stroke over Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman.

That puts the South African in contention once again in the Majors this year after he has finished second in the last two Majors in his bid to add to his sole triumph in The Open in 2010. And he came into this week with a career six runner-up finishes in the Majors, and “working harder than ever” to claim a victory.

“That was probably, in my mind, the most perfect round I could have played,” said Oosthuizen. “I didn’t make many mistakes. When I had good opportunities for birdie, I made the putts. So yeah, just a very good solid round.”

Oosthuizen praised his ability to remain patient during the round after he opened with seven straight pars before his first birdie at the eighth hole for a run of three consecutive birdies in that stretch.

“I’ve learnt over the years of playing Major championships that patience is the key thing, and even if you make bogeys, know that a lot of people are going to make bogeys. I was just very patient. I was trying to just hit my shots and didn’t really hit anything close enough to make birdies those first few holes, and then all of a sudden just made two good putts on eight and nine and got the ball rolling. It happened quickly, but you still need to put yourself in those positions, and I felt definitely that the last 10, 11 holes I gave myself a lot of opportunities.”

The leaderboard included three South Africans within the top 10, with Dylan Frittelli (-4 66) and Justin Harding (-3 67) joining Oosthuizen.

Harding took full advantage of his early tee-off time.

“We got the good tee time. I think I’ve played in one Open in the past where I had like a 3:30pm tee time and it took forever to get started. I was pleased to get an early tee time and get cracking. I played well and managed my game nicely. I only really hit one poor tee shot where it kind of bit me, and ultimately, I’m just quite pleased with the way I finished the round off.

“The golf course is a tough test. There were some really tricky pins out there. I feel like the wind was picking up on the back nine as well. The course is only going to get firmer and faster. It should just be a good test throughout the week. You can’t hit it all over the place here and expect to play well. It’s one of those golf courses which will reward good golf and punish bad golf.”

Christiaan Bezuidenhout opened with a two-under-par 68 and said he was not only happy with his performance, but also thoroughly enjoyed playing in front of a gallery of fans.

“The golf course was pretty scoreable this morning. It played pretty soft and you could attack the flags. Overall, it was a solid day and I played solid golf from tee to green, so I’m really happy with where my game is at. It’s great to have the fans back, especially at The Open where the fans really enjoy their golf. They are really encouraging out there.”

Garrick Higgo didn’t get the start he wanted as he signed for a three-over-par 73.

“I just didn’t get it going on the greens to be honest. But my ball striking was better than it’s been for a while. It was a bit frustrating that I couldn’t get it under par. But I have a good group I’m playing in, so hopefully I can produce a nice low one tomorrow. I played the British Amateur here in 2017. Obviously the course is playing a lot longer than it did then. But it’s nice to play a Major on a course that you have played before. I love this course.”

Of the other South Africans in the field, Daniel van Tonder and Jaco Ahlers both signed for opening rounds of two under 68, Erik van Rooyen carded a 69, Dean Burmester posted a level-par 70, JC Ritchie signed for a 71, and Ernie Els, Branden Grace and Shaun Norris all opened with rounds of 72. – Sunshine Tour/European Tour/The Open.