Carnoustie, Scotland – Branden Grace, to put it mildly, is pumped up with eager anticipation like never before as to what lies ahead for him as a golfer in the next 11 days.
On Thursday he starts the defends his title in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship; next week he’s off to America with four fellow South Africans to make his much-coveted debut for the Internationals in the biennial Presidents Cup match against the mighty United States at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.
“It’s certainly a lot to look forward to,” the 25-year-old admitted on Wednesday.
“I love links golf courses and links golf courses seem to like me,” said Grace, referring in particular to his victory in this tournament here 12 months ago.
“I won five times last year, four of those coming on the European Tour, but the Dunhill Links was by far the biggest of these – not only because of the way I played, but to win here at the home of golf at St Andrews with all its history made it that much more special.”
Grace also demonstrated his love, and adaptability to performing admirably on links courses, in July of this year by matching Phil Mickelson shot-for-shot for 72 holes in the Scottish Open at the Castle Stuart Links in Inverness to get into a play-off with the American, only for “Phil the Thrill” to produce a magical wedge shot at the first extra hole to seal victory. The young South African was disappointed not to win that one, but at least he again showed how skilful he can be when it comes to the wide array of shots required to succeed in links golf.
“This week the weather can play a huge part, but if it’s not too unpleasant and you can get the putter working, you can go low especially at Kingsbarns – where I did last year – and St Andrews. Carnoustie, where I play my first round, is a different story,” he said on Wednesday. “That course is a beast. You’re going to make the odd mistake there. The key is just to stay patient and deal with it.”
Grace’s partner in the separate pro-am that coincides with the main event is again Gaynor Rupert, wife of tournament chairman Johann Rupert, and he’s pleased about this.
Talking of partners, Grace hinted that he will probably be paired with Richard Sterne for the fourball and foursomes matches in the Presidents Cup, while big buddies Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen are almost certain to be together.
The Internationals have only beaten the US once in the Presidents Cup and team members have been talking at length with Johann Rupert and team captain Nick Price how to put the record straight. “They reckon one of the keys is to keep guys from the same country together for the fourballs and foursomes because we know each other so well and get on so well,” explained Grace. And that would suggest, for instance, Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day as a pairing.
“We’re all terribly excited about the Presidents Cup, can’t stop talking about and can’t wait to get on the plane on Sunday night. The US have a fantastic team but I firmly believe we’re up for the challenge,” Grace said.
In the pro-am here, meanwhile, Els (twice a runner-up in the main tournament) is partnering his father Neels, Schwartzel is with Johann Rupert, Oosthuizen with his manager Chubby Chandler, Sterne with NZ businessman Craig Heatley and Retief Goosen alongside movie star Andy Garcia who has starred in, among a string of other films, Desperate Measures (something he might have to resort to at Carnoustie today!).