The 11 South Africans out to break the major drought at the PGA
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JOHANNESBURG – A record 11 South Africans, with varying degrees of expectations, will fly the flag at the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at the Kiawah Island Resort, in South Carolina, starting on Thursday.
In contrast, South Africa had just six players teeing it up at last year’s PGA Championship.
It will be a first major appearance for 22-year-old Garrick Higgo and 30-year-old Daniel van Tonder.
For Higgo, it will be difficult to know what to expect - as one of the form golfers on the planet at the moment.
Higgo won twice on the European Tour in Spain over the last month, winning the Gran Canaria Lopesan Open and the Canary Islands Championship.
Having won his first European Tour event at the Open De Portugal in September last year, Higgo at the age of 21 became the fastest South African to win three tournaments on the tour. He also matched the record of Tiger Woods for the fewest number of events needed to claim three European/PGA Tour wins since 1990.
Higgo took just 26 tournaments to win three times on the European Tour. The next fastest SA player was Ernie Els, achieving the feat in 55 events. The current top-ranked SA player in the world - Louis Oosthuizen - took 170 events to win three times.
There’s no disputing the hot form of the world number 51 Higgo, but making the trip over the pond to play in his first major will be an experience in itself and making the cut in his first attempt will be no small achievement. Higgo, though, will surely have far loftier ambitions as he continues to set new records in his rapidly blossoming career.
For Van Tonder - in his 11th year as a professional - he will be bringing more experience with his seven Sunshine Tour victories and one European Tour triumph. He also won four times on the Sunshine Tour in 2020 and at 77th in the world he will carry considerable form into the event.
However, perennial major contender Oosthuizen will perhaps carry the highest expectation on his shoulders. The 2010 Open champion has second place finishes in every major, which include heartbreaking playoff defeats at The Masters in 2012 and The Open in 2015. His Open title also counts as his only PGA Tour victory - a number he would dearly like to add to while still in his peak golf years at the age of 38.
The world number 31 Oosthuizen has quietly notched up two top-10 finishes in his seven events this year, but as the season’s second major rolls around - he will likely step-up his play - as is the norm with the former world number four.
Another ‘veteran’ SA player in the field will be Charl Schwartzel. The 2011 Masters Champion was ranked as low as 211th at the beginning of April, but in his last four events on the PGA Tour he has improved each time with 26th, 21st, 14th and a third place finish. In fact, the 36-year-old was in contention for the final round of the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson event, eventually finishing four shots behind South Korean winner Kyounghoon Lee.
It’s been an encouraging return to form for Schwartzel, who is now ranked 109th in the world and could be back on his way up to reaching his former heights when he achieved a career-best sixth in the world in 2012.
The other SA players in the field will all fancy their chances, with Christiaan Bezuidenhout the highest ranked at 41st in the world. The player who turned 27 on Tuesday, will be playing in his sixth major and could well improve on his best finish of 38th he notched up at The Masters last year.
Another SA player who is racking up the major appearances is Dylan Frittelli. The 30-year-old will be playing in his 12th major this week, and already boasts a top-five finish at The Masters last year.
Any of Erik van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Dean Burmester, Branden Grace or George Coetzee are also capable of springing a surprise on American audiences, and that major drought for SA players dating back to 2012 might just come to an end this week.
African News Agency (ANA)