JOHANNESBURG: Amazing Grace. There are no other words to describe Branden Grace’s remarkable come-from-behind victory in the South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg at Randpark Sunday.
The 31-year-old closed with a brilliant nine-under-par 62 on the Firethorn course, for a 21-under-par aggregate of 263 with defending champion and tournament host Louis Oosthuizen – who aced his tee-shot at the par-3 eighth hole – second on 18-under 266 and England’s Marcus Armitage third on 268.
Grace’s 62 is the lowest closing round to win an SA Open in the tournament’s history. And included in that 62 were an astonishing nine one-putt greens in a row. It was as if all he needed to do was look at the ball and it would dive into the cup.
There have been ‘Amazing Grace’ accolades before for the Fancourt golfer – like when he shot 60 on his way to winning the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links in Scotland, or when he posted a 62 – the lowest return ever in a Major – in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal St George’s.
Or when he won the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
But this ‘Amazing Grace’ at Randpark arguably tops it all. And the golfer himself, unprompted, used the very words. “It was an amazing round, and an amazing win. I don’t think I’ve ever played a round of golf when the putter’s been that hot,” he said.
He did drop a shot, at the par-4 second hole, but after that it was pure golfing magic. Putts were going from all over the place – admittedly Firethorn’s perfect greens helped his cause – and he delivered a telling blow when he rolled in a 25-footer for an eagle-three at the par-5 fourth. “I knew I needed to come out hot today being three behind (tournament leader) Louis. But conditions were favourable for low scoring and I made the most of it.”
Grace, Oosthuizen and Armitage were neck-and-neck early on but then Oosthuizen took a one-shot lead when he holed a six-iron from 190 metre at the eighth, accompanied by a roar that surely could have been heard right across Johannesburg. “Louis was playing behind me and when I was walking up the ninth I heard the yells and I knew it was Louis and my initial reaction was, damn, he’s up to his tricks again. Last year when he won I was in the hunt before I slipped and he pulled away. Anyway, I said to my caddie this time that we’re in control of what we can do and whatever Louis does – even if it’s a hole-in-one – is out of our control. Our job was to push hard which we did and it helped that my putter was on fire.
“A big moment was at the (par-4) tenth where I hit my drive into the trees, and had to come out sideways onto the fairway. But I hit wedge to a couple of feet and that was another one-putt to save par. I actually didn’t hit a single fairway off the tee on the back nine, but at the same time I wasn’t spraying it badly and by recovering well and with a putting blade that has never been so hot I kept up the pressure.
“To win the SA Open is massive. Up until now I’d won every other big event in this country – the Dunhill at Leopard Creek, the Nedbank, the Joburg Open and the Di-Data. But the SA Open was the one that was missing. Well, now it’s in the bag and it feels great.”
An added bonus to the R2,7-million he picks up as champion Grace earns a spot in this year’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s, as do Armitage and South Africa’s Jaco Ahlers who tied for fourth on 15-under with England’s Jack Senior. “I had a bit of a sour taste at the end of last year because knew I wasn’t in The Open yet so this is just a perfect start to the year – SA Open champion and a spot in the biggest one of all, The Open.”
South Africa’s No 1 amateur, 18-year-old Jayden Schaper, tied for sixth on 13-under-par 271 after a 70 Sunday. “It’s been a great learning experience,” said the hugely gifted youngster who looks set to make it big in golf once he turns pro but, as he said, he’s in no hurry to do so just yet which wise heads will say is the way to go.
Don’t rush it. Too many have done so in the past and regretted it. Grow up a bit more first. It pays off in the long run.
Written by Randpark Member Grant Winter.