JOHANNESBURG - “Oh to be in England now that April’s there,” is a line from that great 19th century poet Robert Browning which has for some reason always stuck in my mind.
He was writing about the beauty of spring in his homeland. But I woke up in the middle of the night earlier this week thinking something a bit different: “Oh to be in Scotland now that the Open’s on!” (Brown’s influence I guess).
I’ve covered a bunch of Open Championships but not this year, which I’m sorry about because there’s no less than a dozen of our “tribe” in the line-up. Afrikaans may just be the flavour of the week in Carnoustie from Thursday.
Okay, Brandon Stone is English but what a wonderful effort last week in him winning the Scottish Open, shooting an outrageous 60 in the final round but missing an eight-foot putt at the last to be the first player in European Tour history to post a 59. Just as a laugh, of course, he went back to the 18th green after lifting the trophy and canned the putt. Although this was Stone’s third win on the European Tour, along with his SA Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship victories, it hadn’t been the best of seasons from him until all that changed dramatically on Sunday and he poured a cool million euros into his golf bag.
The 25-year-old has been swinging a club ever since he could walk. It was very much the thing to do in his family since his granddad Sam and father Kevin were, and still are, golf nuts. Sam in his day played for the SA Senior Amateur side, Kevin as a kid represented the SA Juniors (before winning as a pro the SA Club pro title what seems like a million times) and Brandon earned national colours both at junior and open level before joining the paid ranks. So three generations of Stones in the green and gold - that’s pretty special.
“They call my dad Stone, I’m known as Stoney and Brandon’s been called Pebbles ever since he was a lightie,” says Sunshine Tour veteran Kevin, who has been one happy father since his lad blitzed the Scottish Open with that 60. And from one happy father to one happy uncle. That’s Oom Ernie, who is playing in The Open this week alongside his nephew Jovan Rebula, who famously won this year’s Amateur Championship to qualify not only for Carnoustie but next year’s Masters and US Open as well.
It would have been great to see Big Easy giving Big Easy 2 some valuable tips when playing a practice round together. Rebula is the son of Ernie’s sister Carina and her Serbian husband Dragan. He was scratch at 14, went on to become SA’s top-ranked amateur and is now taking the American college route to develop his game, unlike Els, who opted not to. Classmates can’t pronounce Jovan’s name. “They just go with Jo or Yo, or Big Jo,” he says.
It’s also great to see 49-year-old Retief Goosen in the line-up after he beat over 200 younger guns in Final Qualifying to book a spot in the “Car-Nasty”(so called because Carnoustie is so brutally tough) line-up, while Els is exempt because he won the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham. “Goose” is drawn in the first round in an oldtimers’ threeball with Bernhard Langer, 60, and Darren Clarke, who turns 50 next month. So they share a lot of years, and hopefully they’ll share a lot of birdies this week.
So we have Pebbles, Big Jo, Goose and Ernie to watch this week. Then there’s Louis (Ooshuizen) tand Charl (Schwartzel) and Branden Grace and Dylan Frittelli, and George Coetzee, and Erik van Rooyen, and Shaun Norris, and Zander Lombard. Yes, that makes 12. It should be a blast. Gosh, I’d love to be in Scotland now that the Open’s on.