A huge loss, a big win and a great honouron May 11, 2011
There has been no shortage of news in the world of golf of late, and particularly for South African fans, there has been a lot to talk about.
The golf world was rocked by the death of Seve Ballesteros, and while not totally unexpected after the Spanish star’s battle with a brain tumour, it had been hoped that he would make a full recovery after extensive surgery. In his most recent televised interview filmed at his home, Ballesteros said that he had begun practicing in the hope that he would again play in the British Open, and he joked that if Tom Watson could come so close to winning (two years ago at Turnberry), he might have a chance. Sadly, this was not to be.
It was appropriate that Thomas Aitken, who triumphed in the Spanish Open, should dedicate his win to Ballesteros, and after several near misses, the South African finally notched up a European Tour victory. South African golfers have certainly been on a roll – incredible to think that a country with less than 200,000 registered players of the game should have two current major champions (Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel), and while Aitken was lifting his first European trophy, Rory Sabatini came close on the PGA Tour in the Wells Fargo Championship, fishing just one stroke adrift of the playoff in the where former US Open champion Lucas Glover prevailed against Jonathan Byrd. (This was Golver’s first win since his US Open triumph at Bethpage Black two years ago, and elevated his World Ranking back into the top 50.)
Then of course, the big news was that Ernie Els was to be inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame, an honour the ‘Big Easy’ richly deserves. Although Els has been struggling to regain the form that has seen him capture a trio of major titles and 62 victories worldwide (including three Nedbank Golf Challenge titles), he said at his induction at St. Augustine that he remains determined to win more championships and major titles. There are now 136 champion golfers and people that have made important contributions to game honoured in the Hall of Fame, which was first established in 1940.
Another surprise announcement was the resignation of the Sunshine Tour’s Commissioner Gareth Tindall. Tindall will be leaving the top post in South African professional golf to take up the position of CEO of a JSE-listed company at the end of June. His position will be filled by the Executive Director of the Sunshine Tour Selwyn Nathan. Nathan is well known and much respected in golfing circles – after a noteworthy amateur career, he turned professional and has served on the board of the professional body since it was first constituted. Tindall will be leaving his post on a high – he played an important role in South Africa securing a World Golf Championship event which will be held in 2012; the date and venue of this event is yet to be announced, but having a WGC tournament in South Africa will further enhance the country’s status in the sport.
So where to from here? The next major will be held at the Congressional Club, where the US Open will be played, and there will be no shortage of South African challengers. Schwartzel, who has never played this course, has already made it clear that he fancies his chances of following up on his brilliant victory at Augusta National. “Ernie Els will obviously be able to help with some advice on playing the course,” Schwartzel said recently, (Els won one of his US open titles here), “and I particularly like playing tough courses,” added SA’s top-ranked player.
In the meantime the tussle at the top of the World rankings remains an intriguing battle, with all of current number one Lee Westwood, Martin Kymer and Lucas Donald in the mix. The results at The Memorial tournament and The Players Championship could again see the top spot changing hands before the US Open. Tiger Woods, who occupied the number one position for more than five years, would still seem to be on an inexorable slide in the wrong direction, and will be interesting to see if he can ever attain that elusive record set by Jack Nicklaus of 18 major titles. In the shorter term, Woods probably gladly settle for another win in any event.