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Els celebrates 30th Open

13th July 2021

Els celebrates 30th Open

Ernie Els will reach yet another major milestone in his career when he makes his 30th Open appearance at Royal St George’s this week.

It’s a journey that began in 1989 when Els made his Open debut at Royal Troon after winning the South African Amateur title that year and missed the cut with rounds of 72 and 76. And it’s a journey that saw him twice win the Claret Jug in 2002 and 2012 and finish second in 1996, 2000 and 2004. Since that first appearance in 1989, he has only twice not played in the Open, and that was in 1990 and 1991 (there was no tournament in 2020).

This week, Els will lead a group of 13 South Africans challenging for Major glory on the English links, including Jaco Ahlers, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dean Burmester, Dylan Frittelli, Branden Grace, Justin Harding, Garrick Higgo, Shaun Norris, Louis Oosthuizen, JC Ritchie, Erik van Rooyen and Daniel van Tonder. Louis de Jager has had to withdraw after contracting Covid-19.

It seems only apt that the man who has flown the flag for South African golf around the world for decades now, and who is the country’s last Major champion after winning the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes, should lead such a strong group of South Africans in golf’s oldest and perhaps most celebrated Major.

And it brings him back to a style of the game which he has always loved, from the minute he first set foot upon the links in 1987 as a member of a touring South African amateur team.

“I don’t know if you’re born with it or you learn it. All I know is that I took to it like a duck to water. Links golf is the foundation of the game, and I just think I had a good feel for it from the start,” he says.

Els has gone as far as to say that links golf brings something totally different out of him, even to the point of feeling like he hits the ball more solidly and that his legendary languid swing even feels different on the links.

“I love hitting low three irons, and so on. Even with today’s equipment, if the weather is bad on a links course, that’s a true leveler.”

His love of the links has certainly showed in his Open appearances. After that missed cut in 1989, he returned in 1992 to finish tied fifth at Muirfield and then tied sixth the following year at Royal St George’s. He has described his fifth place in the 1992 Open as the door that opened for the incredible career he would go on to have.

It is hardly surprising that The Open is Els’s most successful Major with 13 top 10s. Perhaps even more impressive is that of those 13 top 10s, nine of them have been top 5s.

The Open and the historic links courses it is played on have combined for some of the greatest triumphs and deepest heartbreaks for Els. But through all the highs and lows, Els’s love for this Major has remained constant.

Speaking after his triumph at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2012, Els said, “It’s not the biggest trophy in the world, but it’s definitely the oldest one that we play for and definitely the most special one. This is it. This is where the game started. Everybody that’s anybody ever in the game has got his name on this, so it means a lot. Every single name (on the Claret Jug) has got a story.”

And the story of Ernie Els and The Open has certainly been one of the most captivating. – Michael Vlismas

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Sunshine Tour rewarded with landmark global partnership

9th July 2021

Sunshine Tour rewarded with landmark global partnership

The European Tour and the Sunshine Tour are delighted to jointly announce today a new landmark partnership which celebrates their already long-term relationship of over a quarter of a century and recognises South Africa’s contribution to the global game.

The European Tour has committed to help further develop the Sunshine Tour, improving the existing international pathway between the two Tours that has seen countless South African players benefit from over the years, and to recognise the sustained contribution of South Africa’s professionals and Sunshine Tour Chairman Johann Rupert in the development and growth of the game worldwide.

The PGA TOUR – the European Tour’s Strategic Alliance partners – are fully supportive of this new development in global golf which will focus on two key areas.

The first of these is the fact that the South African Open Championship – one of the oldest and most prestigious tournaments in world golf – is guaranteed as a co-sanctioned tournament between the European Tour and the Sunshine Tour through 2025, with a minimum prize fund of US$1.5 million for this period. Further tournaments to fall under this new co-sanctioning agreement will be confirmed in due course.

The Challenge Tour will also benefit from the new partnership with a commitment to not only continue to stage the existing three Challenge Tour events in South Africa, but also to create several new co-sanctioned events which will feature on both the Challenge and Sunshine Tours.

Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, said: “For many years the European Tour has greatly valued the relationship we have enjoyed with the Sunshine Tour and today’s announcement is the next step in that journey together.

“Through the leadership, vision and commitment of Chairman Johann Rupert, the Sunshine Tour has not only flourished and produced many of the game’s greats over decades, it is also part of the ecosystem that is at the very core of professional golf.

“We have been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Sunshine Tour on this pathway for over a quarter of a century and we very much look forward to continuing this partnership for many years to come.”

Thomas Abt, Commissioner of the Sunshine Tour, said: “This partnership is an acknowledgement of the contribution that our Chairman Johann Rupert has made not only to the advancement of the Sunshine Tour and its legacy, as well as golf development, but also to the overall growth of the global game.

“We are delighted with a partnership that recognizes South African golf’s place in the history of this great game, and which has been showcased through our long association with the European Tour. Selwyn Nathan, our Executive Director, has been instrumental in forming this partnership with the European Tour with our Chairman and Board’s counsel, and which sees us in the position that we are in today. This partnership will open the door to even greater growth for our players.”

PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan, said: “We are thrilled to see these two leading golf organizations come together for the benefit of the global game, players and fans. The European Tour and Sunshine Tour each have rich histories, celebrated events and a proven record of developing some of the world’s best players.  This new partnership further illustrates the strengthening ecosystem of professional golf that we have all worked together to build for the betterment of the game.”

The shared history between the European Tour and the Sunshine Tour goes back over a quarter of a century to the first co-sanctioned tournament, the Lexington South African PGA Championship at the Wanderers Club in February 1995. From then until now the two Tours have combined close to 100 times.

The winner of that first event was Ernie Els and it is appropriate that the four-time Major Champion set the ball rolling as he remains the most successful South African player in European Tour history, having contributed 28 of the 160 wins to date; a total which sees South Africa ranked fourth on the list of the most successful nations in European Tour history; behind England, the United States and Spain.

Following the pioneering efforts of fellow Major champions Bobby Locke and Gary Player, Els is joined on the list of South African European Tour champions by Major winners Retief Goosen, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Trevor Immelman. He is also joined by Justin Harding, Daniel van Tonder, Garrick Higgo (a winner on the PGA TOUR as well), Dean Burmester, George Coetzee and Christiaan Bezuidenhout who have all triumphed on the European Tour recently – further proof of the Sunshine Tour’s status as a breeding ground for future international stars.

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The Score hosted by Mustek - Louis de Jager

7th July 2021

The Score hosted by Mustek Louis de Jager

Louis de Jager qualified for his first Major when he successfully came through Final Qualifying for The Open at Royal St George’s this July. The five-time Sunshine Tour winner reflects on this achievement as well as some of the challenges of being a touring professional during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s a proud moment for me to play in my first Major. At the same time, it’s also a relief. This has been a goal of mine for quite some time now, so I’m really pleased to achieve this.

Some of my favourite golf memories have come from watching The Open. I’d say my favourite of those was definitely watching Ernie (Els) win both of his in 2002 and 2012. It was also heartbreaking watching him lose a few of them. And then obviously, it was so great to see Louis (Oosthuizen) win in 2010. I’ve always enjoyed watching The Open, and seeing our South Africans do well there.

Traveling during Covid-19 has been weird at times. I was in Germany the week before, so I just needed all my correct documents in place because the UK is very strict at the moment. I wasn’t looking forward to isolating, and I was very relieved to have been given an exemption from this. But I was the only person in the hotel I stayed at. I wasn’t allowed in the clubhouse at West Lancashire. I had to eat outside. They even set up a mobile toilet just for me. Only I was allowed to use it. It kind of felt like I had the virus because I was separated from everyone. But otherwise it was fine.

When I made that 9 on the 11th hole during the second round, it was completely out of the blue. I was playing so well for 28 holes and then it happened. I definitely didn’t see it coming. I actually didn’t know what to even think at that moment. But what helped me is that the walk from the 11th green to the 12th tee is quite long. And you walk past the scoreboard. Then I saw there was one player on five under and a few on four under. So I knew I’d dropped down to four under but was still lying tied third and still in it. So I kept on encouraging myself, and it worked. I birdied three of my final five holes to finish second on seven under par. 

I had a lot of congratulatory messages from family and friends. But I think most of the messages came from caddies. There are a few caddies that want to caddie in The Open for me. So I’m getting messages from all over from the caddies.

Nothing has really changed in my game. I’ve just been working consistently on improving my golf. I’ve just been trying to do the same good things over and over, and that’s really been working well for the last year and a half.

Seeing the success of my fellow Sunshine Tour players overseas has definitely inspired me. It feels like we’ve definitely created a trend in Europe. Seeing Garrick (Higgo), Dean (Burmester) and Darren (Fichardt) playing well definitely gets the juices going and makes you also want to do well. I think as South Africans we have a good energy going out on Tour at the moment. 

The most challenging thing for me has been being away from my family. That’s really put me out of my comfort zone. Being alone on Tour and staying alone in hotel rooms is also challenging in this time. Off the golf course you feel really outside of your comfort zone. On the golf course, fortunately things still feel more or less the same. But you definitely feel it off the golf course at the moment. 

My desire is still very high. I want to achieve a lot of things. It’s been challenging traveling and playing in these times, but at least we are playing. At least we can earn a living. But I’ve got a lot I still want to achieve and I’m looking forward to the next few events this year.