JOHANNESBURG – After a highly profitable season on the European Tour highlighted by his Scottish Open victory, Brandon Stone was asked yesterday if he now no longer finds it daunting teeing up in the tour’s biggest and most lucrative events, like the $7-million Turkish Airlines Open beginning today at the Regnum Carya Golf Resort here.
“Actually, I’ve never been daunted by how important the tournament is, or who’s playing, or how tough the course might be,” was his candid reply. “I really thrive when the cameras are on me and I’m in contention. That’s when I play my best golf.”
And right there is one of the secrets to the 25-year-old’s success which has earned him nearly 1,5-million euros in prize-money - the equivalent of about R24-million - on the European Tour alone in 2018. Think Gary Player, for example. There was another man, another South African, who thrived when the cameras were on him and he was in contention. Not being daunted, and not buckling under pressure, are some of the hallmarks of a true champion.
Stone talks a good deal about “our success” and “we won”, or “we played well”. He is very aware of the team around him - coach Jamie Gough, South African caddie Teaghan Gauche, physio, manager, new wife Anette, whatever and whoever.
Stone, nicknamed Pebbles all his life, was out on the range early yesterday morning with the 53-year-old swing guru that is Gough.
“Goughie and I have been working together since last year and we’ve made a few swing adjustments - nothing major but important little changes to simplify my game and make my legs more stable. We feel we started bearing fruit when this past summer started in Europe. We’ve been playing really well and swinging well since the French Open at the beginning of July, and there’s plenty of self-belief.”
After his sensational final round 60 to win the Scottish Open at Gullane, Stone went on to play well at Major level, with a tie for 12th in the US PGA Championship a month later.
Then came a six-week break to recharge his batteries and, far more importantly, get married.
He looks back on the Scottish Open victory - where that 60 was preceded by rounds of 70, 64 and 66 for a 260 birdie-blitzing aggregate - with a good deal of pride.
“One of my goals at the beginning of this year was to win abroad, on the European stage, and to do so on a links course, on turf unfamiliar to what I’m used to in South Africa, against the best players in the world at that week in Europe, was pretty special.”
Besides exchanging wedding vows with Anette, one reason why Stone took those six weeks away from the game was so he can be fresh for a hectic end-of-year schedule which includes next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, the European Tour’s end-of-season DP World Tour Championship in Dubai the week after that, and, in December, the South African Open at Randpark and the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
“At the end of last year I was facing serious burnout and I didn’t want that to happen again this year, especially when I’m playing at home in SA where I want to be at my best,” he explained.
He is aware that at the Nedbank, for instance, there is additional pressure because of the aura of the event and the high expectations the home fans behind the ropes place on the South African golfers taking part.
“Yes, there is going to be high stress and pressure but if it worries you you’re probably in the wrong occupation.”
So as far as Stone sees next week at Sun City, it’s a case of bring on those cameras!
Eight South Africans are in this week’s Turkish Airlines Open line-up - Stone, Darren Fichardt, George Coetzee, Richard Sterne, Trevor Immelman, Dean Burmester, Thomas Aiken and Erik van Rooyen who has had a fine debut season on the European Tour.
Stone is currently 18th in the Race to Dubai but believes good golf over the next three weeks could see him move up in the rankings. “Top 10, maybe top five - let’s see if we can make some birdies.”