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The best SA golfers and the rest

The Presidents Cup is the rest of the world’s answer to the Ryder Cup. While the Europeans and Americans square off in the Ryder Cup, the Internationals, as they are called, are a team made up of the “best of the rest” from across golf courses the world over. South Africa has had strong representation over the years with Ernie Els lying only second behind Vijay Singh in terms of appearances with five versus the Fijian’s seven. Retief Goosen, Fulton Allem, Tim Clark, David Frost, Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini are the other South African golfers to have played in the event.

In fact, South Africa contains the Internationals current top five if the side were picked today, though it could change by the time the tournament rolls around in November (a scheduling disaster with the SAA Open will need to be avoided first). Apart from Els, Goosen and Clark, British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel would round out the top five with four Australians making up the next significant contingent. Australian representation is important to promote the tournament but it will be the South Africans that lead the charge against the Americans.

Though SA contributes only a fraction of the world’s golf players, especially in comparison with juggernauts like the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Ireland and Sweden, the Rainbow Nation continues to produce players that are of equal if not better standard than their rivals. Gary Player is one of the greatest golfers ever, being one of only five men to have won each major. Bobby Locke was the first South African to win a major golf championship, claiming four British Open titles — the second highest by a player not from Europe or the US. Els, Immelman, Goosen and Oosthuizen are all major golf tournament winners in the modern era. Dale Hughes was another golfer who travelled across Europe and succeeded though he was never able to win a major golf tournament.

Els has continued to be the titan of South African golf. He has won three major tournaments, topped the European Order of Merit twice, is a former world No 1, holds the record for longest time spent in golf’s Top 10 (788 weeks ie more than 12 years), leads the all-time career money list on the European Tour and will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May of this year. Goosen also casts a big shadow in SA golf, with two majors and has topped the European Order of Merit twice like Els. Oosthuizen secured his first major last year while the likes of Clark, Sabbatini, Immelman (2008 US Masters champion) and Clark — who won last year’s Players Championship — have all travelled across golf courses on both the US PGA and European Tours.

It would be interesting to have conclusive proof why or rather how SA has managed to provide so many world-class golfers over the years. South Africa is a nation that has a habit of producing athletes capable of beating the world’s best regardless of sport. Athletics, rugby, golf, cricket, canoeing, soccer, bowls, tennis and swimming have all at one time or another had a South African athlete or team rise to the top as the world’s best, especially at junior level before professionalism in the various sports enters the equation.

It could even be our climate, with the sunshine that sprays the entire country at one time or another throughout the year providing the right conditions for golf courses to be furnished and for individuals to get involved in the game. It is also no coincidence that all of South Africa’s leading golfers are white. It is a game that requires much expense, from training to clubs to other equipment to club memberships. It also requires a lot of time to master, a luxury that economic reality firmly negates for the majority of South Africans, especially the previously disadvantaged.

While the sport can only grow if the economic dispensation that underpins it changes, and as such that change will be slow, let us celebrate the fact that in yet another realm of world competition, Africa’s largest economy and leading democracy (which we often forget under the waves of cynicism) leads the way in Africa. It’s another reminder to the rest of the world that there is more to South Africa then just simply soccer tournaments, the Big 5, crime and the legacy of apartheid.