South Africa’s Branden Grace can expect a warm welcome from the home crowds when he tees it up alongside European Ryder Cup star Martin Kaymer in the 102nd South African Open championship at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate from November 15-18.
Over the past 10 months, Grace has captured the imagination of world golf in a season that has seen him rise from outside the top 300 to No 37.
On Sunday, the 24-year-old Knysna golfer showed the class that had already brought him four titles in 2012 when he claimed his fifth win this season with a two-shot victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Scotland.
The South African immediately set his sights on the SA Open, hoping to add the prestigious title of the world’s second-oldest Open championship to his impressive haul of silverware this year.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve felt that I’ve played good golf, but never really got the push out of it; I never really got where I wanted to be,” Grace said yesterday.
“Obviously, this year has been a dream year so far, and going back home, I hope I get rewarded for what I’ve done this year and that people will come out in support. It’s going to feel awesome to tee it up in the SA Open.”
Grace’s dream season of success on three continents began with back-to-back European Tour victories at the Joburg Open and Volvo Golf Champions in January. In April, he won the China Open, followed in September by the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final on the Sunshine Tour in a come-from-behind performance at the Fancourt Links.
He emphasised his class when he began the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with a European Tour record-equalling 12-under-par 60 at the Kingsbarns course.
Over the next three rounds, he never relinquished the lead and finished the event with a tournament record-equalling 22-under total and a first prize of £491 000.
Like Open champion and compatriot Louis Oosthuizen, Grace is a product of the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation.
Four-times Major winner Els got his first good look at the youngster’s talent when Grace won the Freddy Tait Trophy as the leading amateur in the 2007 SA Open. The reigning Open champion tips Grace to be another South African Major champion.
“Branden is one heck of a player,” Els told reporters at St Andrews. “He’s good enough to play the PGA Tour and European Tour. He could win an Open Championship, he’s that good.”
Grace also earned the praise of three-times Major winner Padraig Harrington.
“There’s probably nobody in professional golf at the moment who I’d like to play with more, just to see his game and what makes him tick,” Harrington said.
SA Open tournament chairman Khaya Ngqula expressed delight that he could confirm Grace’s entry.
“Branden has no doubt established himself as a quality player this year, and with his exemption secured on the European Tour for a couple of years, he will earn more starts on the PGA Tour (in the United States) and get into the four Majors,” Ngqula said.
“Having risen to third in the Race to Dubai, Grace might even yet deny world number one Rory McIlroy the European moneylist title next month.
“But every South African golfer dreams of lifting the SA Open title, and Branden’s participation underlines his desire to cap his exceptional season by lifting the national title and adding his name to the illustrious list of previous winners, including Major champions Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman and Els.”