Johannesburg – Gary Player hailed the performances of South African golfers in 2012, with Ernie Els claiming his fourth Major title, Branden Grace winning four times on the European Tour, and Charl Schwartzel bagging consecutive runaway victories to end off the year.
The Big Easy won his first Major in 10 years with his victory at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in July.
“I was getting so worried about Ernie,” said Player, a nine-time Major champion.
“At one stage he was lying 65th in the world, and I thought 'a man with this talent'... he was having trouble with his putting, then he went to the belly putter and that changed everything for him.”
Player noted in particular the way the Big Easy played the 72nd hole, which he birdied to ultimately seal the win over Australian Adam Scott, who faltered on the back nine.
“Watching the British Open was interesting. He came to the last hole and his course management was brilliant,” Player said.
“He'd been hitting an iron off the tee every day and so had Adam Scott. Most players had.
“Ernie came to the last and said to himself, 'If I birdie this hole, I have an outside chance of winning. The man (Scott) is four shots ahead with four holes to go'.
“He took the gamble, it came off and he birdied the hole, and Adam Scott made a mess of the last four holes, but particularly the last hole. He came to the last hole and he had to go with a driver as Ernie did, or stick to his plan with an iron.
“He took a three wood – the worst thing you can do.”
Schwartzel, meanwhile, had not won anywhere since his victory at the 2011 Masters, after struggling with injury, and notched up emphatic back-to-back victories in December.
The first came at the Thailand Golf Championship on the Asian Tour where he won by 11 shots. The next week Schwartzel romped to a 12-stroke win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, a co-sanctioned European and Sunshine Tour event at Leopard Creek in Malelane.
“What a fantastic double for Charl Schwartzel at Leopard Creek in the Dunhill, with back-to-back runaway victories,” Player said.
Branden Grace signalled his entry on the world stage with victory at the Joburg Open in January, and followed it up with a playoff win over Retief Goosen and Els the next week at the Volvo Golf Champions.
Grace had only qualified for the event through his win the previous week, and the feat meant he was the first player in 17
years on the European Tour to follow his first victory with his second in consecutive weeks.
Grace later added victories at the China Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
“Branden Grace goes along and wins four tournaments. That was unbelievable,” Player said.
He also praised Louis Oosthuizen, who rose to sixth in the global rankings this year, most notably losing out in a playoff to American Bubba Watson for the Masters title.
“Louis Oosthuizen is ranked sixth in the world at the moment and that's great,” Player said.
“Charl Schwartzel has had a bit of a problem with his injuries, but it's wonderful to see our guys flying the flag for our dynamic country.”
On the women's side, Lee-Anne Pace finished seventh on the Ladies European Tour (LET) moneylist.
Stacey Bregman and Ashleigh Simon were further down in 36th and 38th respectively, while Tandi Cuningham was 50th, Connie Chen 70th, Laurette Maritz 123rd, Morgana Robbertze 141st and Monique Smit 143rd.
The LET also returned to local shores for the first time since 2008, when Selbourne Park Golf Club hosted the Women's South African Open in July, with Pace finishing second behind Germany’s Caroline Masson. – Sapa