The European Tour is only two and a half months old and SA Golf has already seen 5 winners crowned. This compares to 7 South African winners in the entire previous season as well as nine in 2012 and Seven in 2011. Of course this leaves the Rainbow Nation with a great opportunity to challenge that total and also increases our participation at the various majors in the year.
Growing up in post apartheid South Africa, you would have to look towards Retief Goosen and Ernie Els as our only realistic title chances. Of course you could couple that with emergence of Immelman and Clark and later on Schwartzel and Oosthuizen. But the quality of the Sunshine Tour is improving, the Big Easy Tour is assisting development and more South Africans are standing a chance of lifting a trophy in the new season.
Here are 10 South African golfers to watch in 2014 (Official World Golf Rankings in brackets)
10. Darren Fichardt (108)
In 6 events in the new season, Darren has only missed one cut and more importantly has made two top 10’s. I think even bigger than that is that one of those top tens was in Abu Dhabi. That already equals the amount of top 10’s he had in 2013 and Darren is looking to bring the consistency to his game that saw him win the African Open in 2013.
9. Louis Oosthuizen (35)
Much was expected from likeable Louis, but since his Masters playoff defeat to Bubba in 2012, but injury seemed to derail his progress at a remarkable rate. He made only one top 10 in 2013, but he has started 2013 a bit better by winning the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban before missing the cut at the Northern Trust Open. With his back healed now, you must imagine that 2014 will be a much better year for our farmer.
8. Davie van der Walt (188)
2013 was a breakout year for Dawie as he got his first European tour win in the Tshwane Open, followed shortly by the HSBC Champions in Brazil seeing him finish runner-up. A tough run followed before van der Walt got his second win at the Nelson Mandela Championship to win the coolest trophy in World Golf. He has started 2014 well making 6 cuts out of 6 and scoring a top 10 in Qatar.
7. Justin Walters (183)
Justin Walters captured the imagination and the hearts of South Africans when he secured his tour card with a second placed finish at the Portugal Masters at a time when his mother had recently passed away. The 2014 season has started reasonably well with an exceptional second placed finish at the Joburg Open. Here is hoping Justin adds to his solitary event win from 2011 this year.
6. Thomas Aiken (79)
He is a thoroughly likeable golfer and backed that up with his victory at the recently concluded African Open. This was his third career victory following the Avantha Masters in 2013 and the 2011 Spain Open. His 2014 has started with a blaze as he has 3 top 10 finishes in just five starts and has risen 77 places in the World Rankings.
5. Richard Sterne (65)
He made his breakout in 2013 when he won the Joburg Open a week after finishing second at the Dubai Dessert Classic. He also threw in a second placed finish in France and saw himself peak at number 33 in the World Rankings. Although the year hasn’t started fantastically for Sterne, you have to think he will keep getting better!
4. Branden Grace (47)
It’s hard to have a better season than Branden had in 2012 when he won the Alfred Dunhill Links, the Volvo China Open, the Volvo Golf Champions, the Joburg Open and the Vodacom Origins of Golf tour. And Grace found it tough in 2013, with only 4 Top 10 finishes, but the young South African is seen by many as a future Major champion and its hard to argue with that. He will have gained much from his inclusion in the Presidents Cup and hopefully that experience will spur him on to greater heights.
3. Ernie Els (34)
I suppose you can’t have a list of South African golfers without thinking about the Big Easy. Ernie may not be the same dominating force he once was, but his 66 titles, including four Majors, has seen him win a title in every year since 1992 except for only two. Last year it was the BMW International and we all remember which title it was in 2012. Ernie might not be at the same level as some of the top golfers anymore, but his experience is invaluable and I think it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lift a trophy at least one more time.
2. George Coetzee (59)
A player who Gary Player is constantly speaking positively of, he finally broke the duck by winning the Joburg Open. Much has been expected of Coetzee who is incredibly consistent and has tasted top 10 finishes far too many times without success. His 2014 is going to form as he has finished 4th in Abu Dhabi, 5th in Qatar and 1st in Joburg. He, alongside Aiken, is probably the SA Golf form player right now.
1. Charl Schwartzel (16)
There is something frustrating about watching Charl Schwartzel. The brilliant South African has one of the finest swings in the golfing world but seems, at times, to lack the mental fortitude to back it up. You almost think if someone like Dr Sheryl Calder could assist him, Charl would dominate world golf for the next few years. That being said, when everything ticks for our boytjie, he is almost unbeatable.
Who else are you looking to bring South African golfing success?