ST. LOUIS – South African Brandon Stone is drawing strength from a torrent of messages by athletes back home as he tries to end his nation’s longest major golf title drought since 1994.
From rugby standouts to star cricketers, including AB de Villiers, South Africans have been giving the 25-year-old from Rustenburg, who now lives in Pretoria, a lift at the 100th PGA Championship.
“My phone did have a few text messages from not only golfers,” Stone said on Friday. “Cricketers and a few rugby guys are sending me a few motivational messages, showing me support.
“It’s really nice to know that even know though we’re seven time zones away, people are cheering us on.”
Stone fired a two-under par 68 in Friday’s second round to stand on six-under 134 after 36 holes, four strokes off the pace at Bellerive Country Club.
“I feel very comfortable,” Stone said. “I’m playing very nicely, the rhythm has been spectacular all week, and to be six-under going into the weekend is where I want to be.”
Stone, ranked 110th, said he often speaks with De Villiers, the long-time star batsman for the Proteas who retired from international cricket in May.
“He’s an avid golf fan back home, and obviously we live in the same area,” Stone said. “It was just a text saying he was glued to his TV screen for the whole weekend now – get it done, pretty much.
“It was in Afrikaans and my Afrikaans isn’t very good, and it took me a little while to figure it out. Pretty much go out there and enjoy the moment and see what you can do come Sunday.”
He’s far from the only sports star sending well wishes as Stone tries to end a run of 24 major golf events without a South African winner, since Ernie Els captured the 2012 Open Championship.
Thanks to a host of young talent, it’s the longest major men’s break without a South African champion since between Gary Player’s 1978 Masters triumph, and when Els won his first major at the 1994 US Open – when Stone was only 14 months old.
Stone, ranked 110th, finds a sporting camaraderie in his homeland.
“South African golfers and cricketers tend to get along really well. Seems like they become more golf fans than cricket fans the moment they hang up their boots,” Stone said.
“So basically the entire South African cricket team has been sending me good messages. And a few rugby guys that I don’t think many guys will know.
“But the support (comes) from the entire country and especially the sportsmen, because they’ve been there in different situations and they know the pressures that come with it.
“So, nice words of motivation, and hopefully just hoping the best for me.”
Stone gave himself a major lift by winning last month’s Scottish Open, shooting a final-round 60.
While it’s only his seventh major start and first made cut in three tries at a PGA, Stone feels like he is ready for the weekend pressure of major contention.
“I think guys who are in this position have been dreaming of being here from six years old, on holing putts to win the Masters or PGA Championship,” Stone said.AFP