The Unofficial Nedbank Golf Challenge Awardson November 9, 2012
Sunshine Tour professional Trevor Fisher Jnr. summed it up best. “As a pro, just walking past the Gary Player Country Club course, you can’t help thinking about all the great players that have played there.”
From Charl Schwartzel who, as a boy, stood alongside the putting green and watched Ernie Els putt, to the fan who was behind the 18th green when Tiger Woods chipped in, the Nedbank Golf Challenge and its greatest moments have resonated with golfers and fans alike.
Herewith a personal list of awards for “Africa’s Major”.
The “Press” Award
There’s always one. Like the music journalist who was sent to watch a new band in a pub in Liverpool and wrote in his review, “The Beatles have no future”. But when the Nedbank Golf Challenge teed off in 1981, the press got it spot on. “To have five players with 35 Majors between them shooting for a R500 000 first prize on one of the toughest courses in the world is a fantastic concept and a sure-fine winner,” was how one golf writer chose to describe it.
The “Fire in the Volcano” Award
Sure, Johnny Miller was a great first champion, and Ray Floyd’s playoff over Craig Stadler was memorable in 1982. But a tournament hosted in the crater of an extinct volcano found its true fire with the back-to-back victories in 1983 and 1984 by Seve Ballesteros. As Nick Price said after Ballesteros’s first victory in 1983, “I can honestly say that the Million was won by the greatest player who has graced the face of the earth. Seve Ballesteros is something else”.
The “First-Timer” Award
Let face it, you can’t give it to Johnny Miller. He was there when it began so gets it by default in 1981. That’s like rewarding Henry Ford for having the nicest car in 1908. And Ray Floyd’s win a year later to become the second player to win on his debut is all fine and well. But Bernhard Langer’s first victory on his first visit in 1985 was special. Special because Langer would go on to become one of the adopted favourites of South African fans for his support of this tournament.
The “Little Welshman, Big Shot” Award
Only slightly taller than his driver, Ian Woosnam towered over the field in 1987. The Welshman celebrated the first $1 million first place cheque in this event with one of the greatest shots in the history of the tournament when he holed out with a seven iron for eagle on 17.
The “Hometown” Award
We claimed Zimbabwean Mark McNulty as one of our own when he won in 1986. But the first true Proudly South African triumph was Fulton Allem in 1988.
The “What Course Where You Playing?” Award
In 1993, Nick Price took the 12-man format a bit too far. He won by 12 shots that year. But 11 of the world’s best golfers were basically playing putt putt as Price set a new benchmark for success in this tournament when he shot rounds of 67, 66, 66 and 65 to win with a then record total of 24 under par.
The “I’ve Been Waiting for a Long Time to Say This” Award
Nick Faldo. His 1994 win. And in the prizegiving he delivers the immortal line: “Sun City, thanks a million”.
The “Don’t Worry Colin, you did win a Major” Award
Best player never to have won a Major? Well, at least Colin Montgomerie can lay claim to “Africa’s Major” with his victory in 1996.
The “Famous Fist Pump” Award
In 1998, the Tiger came to Africa. Tiger Woods made his debut in the event. Woods chipped in on 18 to force a playoff with Price. But Price went on to win his third title. Woods went home and decided to copy the tournament format, create his own tournament, and try and win that rather.
The “Who Els but Ernie” Award
In 1999, after seven attempts, Els finally got his hands on the crystal trophy. He did so by eclipsing Price’s record total with his own of 25 under par.
The “Pain from Spain” Award
Ernie Els thought he had this one in the bag. Then Sergio Garcia goes and shoots 63 in the final round to tie him for the lead and force a playoff. Els and everybody from Kempton Park to Kuruman then watches in disbelief as Garcia holes his chip from off the green on the 16th and Els’s birdie putt slides past the hole for the Spaniard to win. Qué?
The “What have you got against South African?” Award
In 2003, Sergio Garcia wins again. He does so in a playoff. Again. And in the playoff he beats a South African. Again. This time Retief Goosen. Plans are made to deny him a visa for any future visits.
The “Offshore Banking” Award
Trevor Immelman was the last South African to win in 2007. Then Nedbank’s money hit the offshore market, first with Henrik Stenson in 2008, then Robert Allenby in 2009, followed by Lee Westwood the last two years.
The “How do I get some of this” Award
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