‘I needed a caddie, he needed a player.” Put simply enough, that’s how Swede Henrik Stenson, who leads the SA Open at the halfway mark, happened to link up with South Africa’s Solomon Soli for this week’s tournament at Serengeti.
And Stenson was warm in his praise of ‘Soli’ for his help in the first two rounds on this Jack Nicklaus-design, where your eyes often need supernatural powers to make head or tail of the mysterious slopes on the greens.
Stenson’s endorsement of his looper sparked some talk on Friday about SA tour caddies and how good they were. In a number of instances they’re frustrated golfers now in their 40s and 50s, but who as youngsters became bagmen because opportunities to play the game were denied them by the politics of the time.
In any event, at Serengeti on Friday Tony Johnstone – one of golf’s great characters who won 26 times as a professional and is now a commentator for Sky Sports – was going on about Phillip Letwaba who caddied for him for a quarter of a century and was at his side for most of his victories.
“It’s kind of strange how we hooked up because when I won the 1984 SA Open at Houghton I paid my caddie, gave him a nice fat bonus, and told him to meet me at Randpark the next week for the ICL International.
“But I never saw him again. Anyway, at Randpark I found another caddie, won the tournament and same story – paid him, nice bonus, but never saw him again.
“Then I met Phillip and we clicked immediately. As a golfer it really only takes a couple of weeks to know whether you’re going to gel with a caddie. Sometimes after that fortnight you realise you’ve only got two options – fire him or shoot him. So the fact that Phil and I stayed together for 25 years is testament to what a fantastic caddie he was, a huge help to me in my career and a great reader of greens.
“And he could read me like a book. If I was at boiling point out during a round [personal note: Johnstone was a fiery character and I’ll be damned if smoke didn’t come out of his ears when he got hot under the collar], Phil would know how to calm me down.”
Letwaba is now working for Doug McGuigan,who also rates him highly, and Phil was on his bag when he won the SA Match Play at Zwartkop two Sundays back. There have only been three other SA Match Plays for the pros in modern Sunshine Tour history and two of them were won by Johnstone. In 1987 at Crown Mines he beat Mark McNulty in the final and the following year at Sun City he defeated Wayne Westner to lift the title.
“And guess what, both times Phillip was on my bag. Match play was always my game, and I guess it’s his too,” says Tony.
Bulawayo-born Johnstone, now 54 and a true son of Africa, is in a TV documentary where he hits shots in the Kruger Park bush, and describes the animal and plant life around him. It’s being screened on Super Golf.
In one episode he tees up on a wet pile of rhino dung, and before letting fly comes up with this classic: “I better not hit this one fat!”
That’s Johnstone for you. Interested? Go to bushhacking.com – Saturday Star