The South African Open hosted by the City of Johannesburg at Randpark next week is the third time the club has staged our national open.

And the last time it took place here, in January 2000, proved to be one of the most thrilling Opens since the tournament was first played for under the medal format in 1903.

This was because no less than 11 players were in contention to win on the back nine on Sunday following a three-hour stoppage because of an electric storm.

The field that year was a world class one  with Nick Price, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam (all world No1s at some stage of their careers) heading up a contingent that also included defending champion David Frost, Retief Goosen, Lee Westwood, Mark McNulty and Tony Johnstone.

On that Sunday afternoon, the then 43-year-old Price  so popular throughout his career and one of those 11 players in contention - drove the fans into a frenzy by coming out after the storm delay to hole his approach for an eagle-two at Randpark’s (now Firethorn’s) par-4 11th hole.

As it eventually transpired, 29-year-old Swede Mathias Gronberg took the title (Mercedes Benz were the sponsors) following a birdie at the last (then a par-5 but now a par-4) by hitting the green in two and two-putting for a birdie, a 67, a 14-under-par 274 aggregate, and R965 000 in prize-money.

South Africa’s Darren Fichardt  then fairly new to pro golf - also birdied the closing hole by hitting a sand wedge approach from 90 metres to a couple of centimetres from the cup to finish joint second on 275 alongside Zimbabwe’s Price and Richard Gonzalez of Argentina.

“My putting was hot over the last 36 holes and that was the key,” said Gronberg. “My wife, Tara, has been pestering me to buy a Mercedes Cabriolet and now we’ll be able to get one to make the sponsors happy,” he grinned.

As is the case with this year’s SA Open, the 2000 edition was also part of the European Tour and Fichardt’s strong finish then helped him to get full playing privileges for that tour in 2001 and, 18 years down the line, he’s still going strong in Europe.

In 2000, he had been married for just two weeks to Natasha, a psychologist who helped him then and is still occasionally doing so now with the mental side of the game.

“I told Natasha at the time to start packing the bags as we were about to start travelling,” Fichardt, now 43, said at the time. And, yes, they’re still travelling the world together on the European Tour.

As a footnote to the 2000 SA Open, Val Aiken packed her 16-year-old son Thomas off to school before the tournament with his lunch pack and a big golf bag. The sarmies were to keep him going through the day and the golf equipment for his SA Open practice round. Okay, he didn’t make an impact as a teenager that year but he too is now full-time on the European Tour, and a winner on tour.

Saturday Star

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