Johannesburg - Any of the following sound familiar? South African golfers have won more Majors than any other nations besides the US. For a small country, we operate well above our fighting weight on the fairways of the world. Gary Player is the greatest sportsman South Africa has ever produced. Ernie Els is this country’s favourite sporting son.
We’ve had these statements drummed into us in glowing terms, lauding how exceptional our male golfers perform internationally. And while it’s difficult to argue against Player being our all-time No 1, as far as the other assertions go, things aren’t looking so rosy this year.
Els has been missing cuts, and so have fellow Major winners Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman. Branden Grace, who won four times in a sensational 2012 European Tour season, is off the boil. George Coetzee did win the Joburg Open in February to break his duck on the European Tour, but has been quiet ever since.
So what’s the problem? Well, for starters it has to be admitted that golf can be infuriatingly unpredictable. One day you can’t go wrong, the next day you’re chunking it and there’s no logical explanation why you’re making bogeys instead of birdies.
Yet for most, if not all, our players on the European and PGA Tours to be going through relatively dry spells at the same time is a little disconcerting for a proud golfing nation like South Africa.
The way the boys swing the club shouldn’t be an issue. From Ernie to Louis to Charl – their fellow professionals would give anything to have their rhythm and textbook technique.
But right now they all lack the season-upon-season consistency that the great Gary Player has displayed for half a century and more (although to be fair to Els, in his younger days he set records for the number of consecutive cuts made).
Perhaps the answer is that the current crop need to learn not just a little about self-belief from Mr Player, who – need we be reminded – won 165 tournaments worldwide over five decades, including nine Majors and nine Senior Majors.
Ever since he was a boy, Player was determined to be a world champion. Reading Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking helped him strengthen his self-belief. “I learnt very early on that pure talent will get you only so far, because the mind takes over and leads a person into the realm of perfection,” he wrote in Don’t Choke.
Perhaps the supreme example of this self-belief – almost self-hypnosis – came when he was about to take part in the 1965 US Open at Bellerive CC in Missouri. He said: “By the first tee was a big scoreboard which included all the names of previous US Open. The last one said ‘1964, Ken Venturi’. In the space below was ‘1965’, followed by a blank.
“The first time I walked past that scoreboard I saw in my mind the letters ‘1965, Gary Player’, as clearly as they had been painted on in beautiful, gold capital letters. Every time I passed that board I forced myself to look at it, and there was my name. The message was imprinted on me that it was going to happen, that it would be my year.”
Well, history tells us it was indeed Player’s year. He did win the 1965 US Open to become only the third player after Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen to complete the coveted Grand Slam. He was just 29 years old. It took the kind of self-belief that perhaps Charl and Louis and George and Branden need.