Vin­cent Tsha­bal­ala, 1942-2017

He learned to play in the veld in Soweto

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - The Golf Life Passings -

French Open cham­pion in 1976,Tsha­bal­ala, 75, was a life­long friend of Gary Player, who ex­pressed his shock at the sud­den­ness of his pass­ing.The two met as young boys in the 1950s at Vir­ginia Park Golf Club (now South­downs) in Ki­bler Park, south of Jo­han­nes­burg.“We used to prac­tice to­gether, tak­ing turns to hit balls and pick them up for each other,” said Player.

Young Vin­cent was a self-taught golfer, who learned hit­ting balls in the veld in Soweto, hon­ing his unique swing. He ap­pren­ticed as a mo­tor me­chanic.

Later, Player helped spon­sor Tsha­bal­ala in his pro­fes­sional golf ca­reer, en­abling him to play tour­na­ments in Amer­ica and Aus­tralia dur­ing the 1970s when he was at the peak of his game. He played in two Open cham­pi­onships .“His sur­name was a tongue-twister for the Amer­i­cans! Vin­cent was a bril­liant driver of the ball (em­ploy­ing a distinc­tive cross-handed grip), one of the best I’ve seen, with a swing not dis­sim­i­lar to Arnold Palmer, but he was av­er­age with the put­ter, and that’s why he never did as well as he should.”

He nev­er­the­less stunned the golf­ing world when in his sec­ond start on the Euro­pean Tour he won the French Open at Le Tou­quet with a 16-un­der-par to­tal of 272.The course is on the English Chan­nel, and Tsha­bal­ala rev­elled in the windy con­di­tions with his low ball flight. A re­mark­able as­pect of his vic­tory was that he pulled his own bag on a golf trol­ley.

Fol­low­ing that win, the “white” PGA chose him in the two-man SA team for the World Cup in Cal­i­for­nia at the end of 1976, a se­lec­tion not met with uni­ver­sal ap­proval among PGA mem­bers. But Tsha­bal­ala turned down the op­por­tu­nity, say­ing it was “win­dow dress­ing,” which the PGA mem­bers in­ter­preted as an in­sult. How­ever, this was the time of the Soweto ri­ots, and Tsha­bal­ala, liv­ing in Soweto and a pub­lic fig­ure, was un­com­fort­able be­ing part of a team backed by an apartheid regime. It wasn’t long be­fore South Africa was barred from the World Cup. In 1979, in Greece, Dale Hayes and Hugh Baioc­chi were told they were not wel­come, and sent home.

In 1982, nine black pro­fes­sional golfers, in­clud­ing Tsha­bal­ala, were awarded mem­ber­ship of the PGA for the first time. In 1990-91, when the Na­tional Sports Com­mit­tee were merg­ing sport­ing codes, golf was the first body to be ap­proved, and he was elected cap­tain of the PGA, help­ing unite the PGA and black Tour­na­ment Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

In­jury cur­tailed Tsha­bal­ala’s ca­reer on the Sun­shine Tour in the 1980s, yet he emerged again in his 50s as a reg­u­lar com­peti­tor on the Euro­pean Se­nior Tour. He was a fix­ture along­side Player in his lo­cal celebrity char­ity events, firstly, the Nel­son Man­dela In­vi­ta­tional, which Tsha­bal­ala won in 2004 and 2005 at Ara­bella, with Ernie Els and Tim Clark as his re­spec­tive bet­ter­ball part­ners, and later the Gary Player In­vi­ta­tional un­til 2011, af­ter which the bet­ter­ball for­mat came to an end, and the GPI be­came more celebrity driven.

Tsha­bal­ala, of Swazi her­itage, loved play­ing golf, and pass­ing on his im­mense knowl­edge to other golfers. He was in­ducted into the SA Golf Hall of Fame at the sec­ond cer­e­mony in De­cem­ber 2010, and re­ceived a Pres­i­den­tial Sports Award from Thabo Mbeki. He was of­ten to be seen at the Ohen­imuri course near his home in Walk­erville be­fore it closed a few years ago. Vin­cent Tsha­bal­ala is held aloft af­ter vic­tory in the 2004 Nel­son Man­dela In­vi­ta­tional. Be­low: Dis­play­ing his distinc­tive cross-handed grip.

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