ST ANDREWS, Scotland – One little shot in golf can transform a player’s season, and this might just apply to South Africa’s Branden Grace.
This was because his extraordinary chip out of the “cabbage” at the back of the 18th green at Liberty National Golf Club on Sunday enabled him to save par and halve his match with big-hitting Dustin Johnson in the Presidents Cup.
The 29-year-old Grace has slipped down the rankings this year, but sharing the honours with no less than world No 1 Johnson in a head-to-head encounter has boosted his confidence for the rest of the year, starting with one of his favourite tournaments – this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland, which is played out over the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
“I love those great links courses and, you know, I’ve done pretty well there before,” said Grace, who won the 2012 edition of the tournament, which included a sublime 12-under 60 in the first round at Kingsbarns.
Grace is clearly capable of bringing golf courses to its knees, and he did so in this year’s British Open at Royal Birkdale when he became the first player in Major history to shoot a sub-63 round, when he brushed in a three-foot par putt on the 18th hole for an eight-under 62.
He admitted afterwards that he had no idea he was in line to make history, saying he was “just in the zone”.
In 157 years of Majors, a 63 has been shot 31 times by 29 players – Vijay Singh and Greg Norman did it twice – most recently by Justin Thomas in June at the US Open at Erin Hills.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship may be played in Scotland and is part of the European Tour, but it always has a strong South African entry as the tournament is very much the brainchild of SA golf benefactor Johann Rupert.
Grace, therefore, heads a group of 18 South Africans in this year’s line-up, including Ernie Els, Richard Sterne, George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken and talented young guns Brandon Stone, Haydn Porteous, Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
In last year’s Links, England’s Tyrrell Hatton cruised to his first European Tour title with a four-shot victory on 265, which included an Old Course record 62 in round three.
Sterne kept the South African flag flying proudly by breaking 70 in all four rounds, including 65-66 over the weekend, to share second place with another Englishman, Ross Fisher.
Sterne would love to go one better this year and Grace, his self-belief having taken a turn for the good, will be again be looking for one of his “just in the zone” sub-par blitzes.