South Africans producing major talent like never before

By Damon HackOctober 9, 2012, 8:37 pm

Johann Rupert was somewhere in the Greek Isles when I heard his voice for the first time.

I’d sent him an email after Louis Oosthuizen’s runner-up finish at the Masters, looking for context in what has become a renaissance in South African golf.

Rupert is the chairman of the South Africa-based Sunshine Tour. He has known Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel since they were teenagers. When Ernie Els was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, Rupert presented him.

Rupert picked up his phone. I could tell instantly that he appreciated my interest in his homeland.

“I really think you should come down and have a look at how people can produce kids that are hungry enough to win major championships,” Rupert said. “Unless you visit with us, you wouldn’t understand.”

Then, after a brief discussion of Louis and all the rest, Rupert said something else: “There are more guys coming.”

I thought about Rupert on Sunday when 24-year-old South African Branden Grace was walking the Old Course at St. Andrews on the way to his fourth victory on the European Tour in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. “Look at that swing,” I thought. “Great balance.”

What was it that Rupert had said?

“There are more guys coming.”

It has been a remarkable run for South African golf and it is poised to continue. The United States has deeper talent and Northern Ireland has the best player in golf (plus its own spate of major winners) but South Africa’s pipeline is humming with sweet-swinging, long-hitting prodigies.

But why South Africa?

“One thing about South Africa is their amateurs play a full year in great weather,” said Pete Cowen, who teaches Oosthuizen. “In Europe, amateur golf is six months.”

But weather is only one factor. Why do Ernie, Louis and Charl, for example, have swings that are the envy of golf?

“Mr. Hogan said you dig it out of the dirt,” Rupert explained.

Asked about the aesthetics of his swing, Oosthuizen said he really didn’t know, though he offered that growing up and playing all over South Africa made him confident that his game could travel.

“Obviously, Louis has talent that allows him to do what you see there,” Cowen said. “He has put in a lot of hard work in it, getting more stability in his lower body and stability at the top of the swing. He is the complete picture of piecing a swing together. It’s taken him a long time to get to that.”

Even beyond technique and instruction one of the country’s greatest assets could be its mentoring. The kinship between generations of South African players is as strong as it is in anywhere and it comes in forms both large and small.

On the Saturday evening of the 2008 Masters, Trevor Immelman received a voicemail message from South African legend Gary Player, telling Immelman that he believed in him and that he needed to believe in himself to win a green jacket.

“And he told me I’ve got to keep my head a little quieter when I putt,” Immelman said back then with a chuckle. “He said I’m just peeking too soon.”

After winning the Masters the next day, Immelman told the story of meeting Player when he was 5 years old. He remembered Player picking him and placing him on his shoulders.

In recent years, Els has picked up Player’s mantle, serving as a mentor and inspiration to the generation following him. His Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation has become a conveyer belt for South African golfing talent.

Els remembers hearing about Oosthuizen when he was a teenager, a kid “playing in a dust bowl of a golf course and shooting low.”

Oosthuizen applied and was accepted to the foundation, removing a large financial burden from his parents and setting into motion a career that has an Open Championship and Masters runner-up already. (Grace also came through Els’ foundation).

Els takes great pride in his foundation and the players who come through, so much so that he can be tough on his protégés when necessary.

When Els and Oosthuizen were in the field at the Byron Nelson Championship, Els freely shared what kind of advice he gives to Oosthuizen, including the occasional kick in the pants. “I’d like to see him get a little more fire,” Els said. “He has to be mentally strong and have a purpose.”

Two months later, Els won his fourth major championship at Lytham. Last weekend, Grace won his fourth European Tour title. There are more guys coming.

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Match-by-match: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 6:32 pm

Here is how things played out on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play:

Group 15: (15) Pat Perez vs. (50) Si Woo Kim, halved: The first match of the day ended up in a draw, as the top seed rallied from a deficit to salvage half a point. Kim won three of the first six holes and held a 3-up lead with seven holes to go, but Perez fought back with four birdies over the next six holes to draw even.

Group 15: (24) Gary Woodland vs. (37) Webb Simpson, halved: This group remains entirely up for grabs since nothing was decided on the opening day. Woodland took a 3-up lead at the turn, but Simpson rallied by winning four of the next seven holes, including a birdie on No. 17 that brought him back to all square for the first time since the third hole.

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Watch: Thomas saves par from impossible position

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 5:18 pm

Luke List was just hoping for an opening in his Day 1 match against Justin Thomas at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Thomas cracked the door on the par-4 ninth, but then quickly slammed it shut. Thomas, 3 up through eight holes, was in terrible shape after two shots at No. 9. But his third shot was a beauty, and a heartbreaker for List.

Thomas made the putt to halve the hole and make the turn 3 up.

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LPGA's new Q-Series to offer deferrals for amateurs

By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 4:36 pm

The LPGA’s new Q-Series, which takes the place of the final stage of Q-School beginning this year, will come with a revolutionary new twist for amateurs.

For the first time, the LPGA will offer deferrals that will allow amateurs to win tour membership in December but delay turning pro until the following June or July, tour commissioner Mike Whan told

It’s a notable change, because the deferral will allow a collegiate player to earn tour membership at the end of this year but retain amateur status to finish out her collegiate spring season next year, before joining the tour.

“We haven’t done that in the past, because we didn’t want an onslaught, where every player in college is trying to join the tour,” Whan said.

The way it worked in the past, a collegian could advance through the final stage of Q-School, but if that player earned the right to a tour card and wanted to take up membership, she had to declare after the final round that she was turning pro. It meant the player would leave her college team in the middle of the school year. It was a particularly difficult decision for players who earned conditional LPGA status, and it played havoc with the makeup of some college teams.

Whan said the revamped Q-Series format won’t create the collegiate stampede that deferrals might have in the past.

“It will take a unique talent to show up at the first stage of Q-School and say, ‘I’ll see you at Q-Series,’” Whan said. “There won’t be a lot of amateurs who make it there.”

Under the new qualifying format, there will continue to be a first and second stage of Q-School, but it will be much harder to advance to the final stage, now known Q-Series.

Under the old format, about 80 players advanced from the second stage to the Q-School finals. Under the new format, only 15 to 25 players from the second stage will advance to the Q-Series, and only a portion of those are likely to be collegians.

Under the new format, a maximum of 108 players will meet at the Q-Series finals, where a minimum of 45 tour cards will be awarded after 144 holes of competition, played over two weeks on two different courses. The field will include players who finished 101st to 150th and ties on the final LPGA money list, and players who finished 11th to 30th and ties on the final Symetra Tour money list. The field will also include up to 10 players from among the top 75 of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and the top five players on the Golfweek Women’s Collegiate Rankings.

“We feel if you make it to the Q-Series finals as a college player, you are probably among the best of the best, and we ought to give you the opportunity to finish the college year,” Whan said.

University of Washington coach Mary Lou Mulflur said she would prefer amateurs not be allowed to compete at Q-School, but she called this a workable compromise.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Mulflur said. “It’s better than the way it’s been in the past. That was hard, because it broke up teams.”

Mulflur said she disliked the tough position the former policy put college players in at the final stage of Q-School, where they had to decide at event’s end whether to turn pro and accept tour membership.

“I can’t imagine being a kid in that position, and I’ve had a couple kids in that position,” Mulflur said. “It’s hard on everybody, the player, the family and the coaches. You hear about coaches standing there begging a kid not to turn pro, and that’s just not the way it should be, for the coach or the player.”

Mulflur agreed with Whan that the new Q-Series format should limit the number of collegians who have a chance to win tour cards.

“I believe it’s a good compromise, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out going forward,” Mulflur said. “Kudos to the commissioner for giving kids this option.”

University of Miami coach Patti Rizzo, a four-time LPGA winner, applauds the deferral option. Two years ago, Rizzo lost her best player, Danny Darquea, who turned pro in the spring. It hurt Miami’s team.

“That was probably our best chance in seven years to win the nationals,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo said her concerns seeing a player turn pro go beyond how it affects her team.

“What all these girls need to realize now is that a degree is more important than ever,” Rizzo said. “In my day, it was like, 'My chances are pretty good. I will get my card.’ But it’s so much more competitive now. And financially, it’s hard to make it. I think it’s so much harder than it ever was. So many girls aren’t making it, and they need a backup plan.”

Darquea is playing the Symetra Tour now, but Rizzo said she is also back in Miami taking classes to finish up her final semester and get her degree.

“It’s great she is doing that, but it would have been better if she could have stayed in college three more months and got her degree and then turned pro,” Rizzo said. “I think this deferral option is great, and I would think all the college coaches will think so, too.”

Whan said collegians who take deferrals will be counseled.

“We will sit down with them and their families and explain the risks,” Whan said. “If you take a deferral and start playing on July 15, you might find yourself back in Q-Series again later that year, because you may not have enough time.”

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Tour still focused on security after death of suspected Austin bomber

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 4:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Although the suspect in the wave of Austin-area bombings was killed early Wednesday, the PGA Tour plans to continue heightened security measures at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

According to various news outlets, Mark Anthony Conditt has been identified as the bombings suspect, and he was killed by an explosion inside his car in Round Rock, Texas, which is 19 miles north of Austin Country Club.

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“We do not comment on the specifics of our security measures, but we are continuing to work in close collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in Austin to ensure the safety of our players and fans at this week’s tournament,” the Tour said in a statement. “Regardless of the recent developments, our heightened security procedures will remain in place through the remainder of the week.”

Authorities believe Conditt is responsible for the five explosions that killed two people and injured five others in Austin or south-central Texas since March 2.

Play began Wednesday at the Match Play.