Johannesburg – Picture the scene: It’s early October and the final press conference at the Presidents Cup after the US had beaten the Internationals, in spite of a steely fight-back by the SA-dominated rest of the world side in the final day singles.
Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen are on stage. Selwyn Nathan, the Sunshine Tour’s executive director, is sitting in the audience in the jam-packed press room. There is a brief interlude. All is quiet. Then Nathan’s very audible cellphone ring fills the room with its distinctive tone as for once he’s forgotten to put it on silent. This is a man who doesn’t get embarrassed, but given the occasion even he feels a tad self-conscious. He looks up at Ernie, Charl and Louis on stage and they’re all giggling like young schoolboys. The Tour commissioner knows exactly what’s happened. But he has a keen sense of humour and all he can do is shake his head and smile.
Well, ‘Nate’ kind of got his own back at Glendower on Thursday during a media launch to announce Schwartzel’s place in the line-up for the South African Open at this truly superb championship course from November 21 to 24. Both men were up at the main table this time and, just at the right moment, he called Charl to even the score. Everyone laughed as it was a happy occasion. There was this sense of euphoria because an SA Open, co-sanctioned with the European Tour, back at a great venue like Glendower and with a classy line-up including Schwartzel and hot-shot Henrik Stenson, the defending champion (and, form-wise, the best player on the planet right now), is something to celebrate.
I have fond memories of fierce SA Open battles in the past at Glendower. In 1989 little-known Fred Wadsworth (with fellow American Tom Lehman, hardly a dime to his name in those days, giving chase) took the honours. Of course, not too many years down the line Lehman was a Major champion and world No1. Like so many others over the years, Tom cut his teeth and learnt to win on the Sunshine Tour and in particular the SA Open with its rich history, and now being staged for the 103rd time. The club’s own Clinton Whitelaw took the honours in 1993, and in 1997, the first time the SA Open was hosted as a European Tour event, Vijay Singh outgunned Nick Price.
Back in 1987 I witnessed Ben Fouchee complete a rare SA Amateur stroke play and match play double at Glendower, edging out a teenaged Els both times. Then we had little idea how great a golfer the Big Easy would become as many saw Fouchee as the future star. I’d have liked to have been around in 1939 to see a young Bobby Locke shoot 66-69-66-64 to win the Transvaal Open. That was 11 years before ‘Nate’ was born, although that didn’t stop someone from sending him a cheeky tweet on Thursday to the effect that if the SA Open is the second oldest national open in the world after the British Open, Selwyn goes one better as he’s the oldest commissioner on record.
We laughed some more, and then savoured the upcoming SA Open. Glendower, Charl, Stenson, Goose. Sounds to us like a damn good mix.