Sunshine Tour rising star Garrick Higgo had just won the Palmetto Championship at Congaree and was being interviewed by CBSâ€™s Jim Nantz on the 18th green. His mom, Susan, who had flown in Thursday, was FaceTiming relatives back home in South Africa.
Everything was moving so fast, and then Nantz announced to the crowd that by winning â€“ by one over a six-some of players that included 54-hole leader Chesson Hadley (75) â€“ Higgo, 22, had just secured PGA TOUR membership through the end of the 2023 season.
Oh, and a spot in the Masters Tournament next year, too. Susan gasped, then laughed.
For Higgo, a lefthander with a winning smile who had won twice in his last three starts on the European Tour, life had just changed dramatically.
â€œI’m just proud of the way I hung in there,â€ he said in his virtual press conference after posing with the trophy on the 18th green. â€œIt was tough all the way from the start. Definitely didn’t have my A game in terms of off the tee, but I like that sometimes. I like not having to play perfect golf. I enjoy scrambling and making a couple putts, which I did, which was awesome.â€
None was bigger than his par save from 9 1/2 feet after driving into the trees on 17.
Gary Player, who had told him before the round not to pay too much attention to what everyone else was doing, called to congratulate him after the press conference was over.
Player knew exactly the winding road Higgo had taken to get here. When he was 9, he and his two siblings and their parents were in a car accident that took the life of their father, Guillermo. Player, who had lost his mom when he was that age, wrote a letter and began to take Higgo under his wing.
Higgo had learned the game from his dad from the age of 2. They played in Pecanwood, in the North West Province of South Africa, less than an hour from their home in Johannesburg. Garrick was the golfing sibling, and his love of the game brought him closer to his father.
â€œHe was a very good cricketer,â€ he said of Guillermo. â€œHe was 6’10” I think, so he was really, really big. My uncle is like 6’11” so, yeah, we’re a big family. I’m not that big. My brother is very big, though. â€¦ My earliest memories would just be, when I was really, really little, I would just go with him. I just really loved golf. I loved going with him. It was kind of our thing.â€
The family recovered, and all are doing well. Susan is an engineer. Older brother Michael and younger sister Calis are both in school back home. Sheâ€™s studying fashion, he business. Higgo, who says they all support one another in their endeavors, kept playing golf after the accident, and his game improved.
He played for the International Team in the 2017 Junior Presidents Cup, and captain Trevor Immelman was impressed. â€œHe just had a calmness about him that exceeded his age,â€ he told PGATOUR.com recently. (Higgo now seems likely to be on Immelmanâ€™s 2022 Presidents Cup Team at Quail Hollow.)
Still, Higgo has freely admitted he was never the best amateur. There were other players, even others in South Africa, like the long-hitting Wilco Nienaber, who could beat him on any given day. He went to America for college â€“ the yardage book in his back pocket still says UNLV â€“ but stayed only two semesters before turning pro in his sophomore year.
His equanimity and cheerful nature, plus hard work, saw him through the transition.
â€œYou canâ€™t tell if heâ€™s shooting the lights out or playing poorly,â€ said his caddie, Nick Cavendish-Pell. â€œHeâ€™s just very calm out there. Very levelheaded guy.â€
He won the Tour Championship on the Sunshine Tour. He won twice on the European Tour, both tournaments on Spainâ€™s Canary Islands, then ventured to America in advance of the PGA Championship. His agents, who live at Sea Island, set him up in a rental house there and introduced him to TOUR players like Harris English, Zach Johnson and Keith Mitchell.
â€œA bunch of good guys,â€ Higgo said.
He didnâ€™t have far to drive to get to the PGA at Kiawah, where he finished T64. He went back to Sea Island to keep practicing, and kept his head down as he played from behind all week at Congaree.
And now this â€“ changing everything.
â€œI mean, my dream’s always been to play on the PGA TOUR permanently,â€ Higgo said to the question of where heâ€™ll play, â€œso at the moment, I’ll focus on that, see if I can keep going.â€
The interview with Nantz, the Teams talk with the writers, and the phone call from Player were all over, and Higgo sped off to catch the TOURâ€™s 8:30 p.m. charter flight to California.
The 121st U.S. Open, his third TOUR start and second major, awaits. – PGA Tour