Grace dreams big, with some help from his friends

by Michael Vlismas on

There was a moment last week in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in St Andrews when a boyhood dream came true.

Branden Grace’s victory on the Old Course earned him his fifth win this year, and his fourth on the European Tour in 2012.

Most importantly, it enabled him to realise his dream of winning on the Old Course, and holding a trophy on the famous Swilcan Burn bridge.

Grace stayed with Louis Oosthuizen and his young family in an apartment overlooking the 18th hole.

And for every day of that week, he watched a video clip of Oosthuizen winning the 2010 Open on the Old Course, and saw how Oosthuizen posed with the Claret Jug on the Swilcan Burn bridge. “I dreamt of lifting a trophy on that bridge,” he said.

When he wasn’t dreaming, Oosthuizen was showing him how to go about doing that. The Old Course is full of quirks, and Oosthuizen showed better than most his understanding of this famous layout.

In a practice round with Grace before the tournament, he instructed him on what lines to take off the tees. It was a big lesson for Grace to learn, and a hard one.

“I always tend to favour the right side of a golf course, which you can’t do on this golf course.

So I had to really concentrate really hard to keep on the left side or hit it down the left, even if the wind was off the left. It’s a shot I don’t like at all.”

And Oosthuizen taught him another valuable lesson – how to relax.

“I think what helped was staying with the family, with Louis and them. Every night we had dinner together, we went to functions together, and I played with the kids. It just really helped me relax and get ready for it. Waking up in the morning and hearing his little girls laughing, it made me feel like I had no worries in the world.”

Grace had other help as well, from caddie Zach Rasego. Zach was on the bag for Oosthuizen when he won the Open, and his contribution to Grace’s victory was immense. Zach has an incredible ability to keep his player calm, and when Grace started hitting a few too many putts past the hole in the final round, and Thorbjorn Olesen eventually drew level with Grace on the back nine, he pulled Zach closer. “You’ve got to help me with these lines,” he told them. And Zach did, to the extent that Grace birdied the next three holes.

In a sense, Grace’s victory summed up the success of South Africa’s professional golfers. There is always someone to help, to give advice when it’s needed. For Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, it was Gary Player. For Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, it was Els and Goosen. For Grace, it has been Oosthuizen.

As he teed off on the final hole last week, Grace nipped off to the restroom as the players, caddies and photographers walked on up the 18th. A few minutes later, he cut a lone figure as he walked over the Swilcan Burn bridge on his way to finishing off a memorable tournament.

The Old Course is a place of dreams, and there is no doubt that as he walked across the most famous bridge in golf, Grace was ticking off one dream, and stepping confidently into the future of a career where he will realise many more.

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