Grace has a Ma­jor chance to win The Open

Pretoria News - - SPORT - GRANT WIN­TER

HE HITS the ball so darn straight, so darn low and so damn far that he’s go­ing to win The Open one day. That’s how South Africa’s ‘Mr Golf ’, Dale Hayes, sees com­pa­triot Bran­den Grace’s fu­ture fol­low­ing the 29-yearold’s daz­zling vic­tory in the Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge at Sun City on Sun­day.

And I have to agree, be­cause Hayes was right­fully point­ing out that the ac­claimed Bri­tish links cour­ses which host The Open Cham­pi­onship each year favour the player who can do ex­actly that – smash it off the tee like a low-fly­ing mis­sile down the mid­dle and out of sight. This not only helps to keep the ball un­der the oft-present wind and out of trou­ble, but also en­ables the player to ex­ploit the hard-run­ning turf so typ­i­cal of links lay­outs.

There’s an old, well-known say­ing in golf that “You drive for show and putt for dough” and there is much truth in this as a tiny missed putt counts for ex­actly the same as a mighty drive. But Grace kind of turned this around on Sun­day and was more just “Drive for Dough” in a bril­liant, ag­gres­sive fi­nal round. His boom­ing tee-shots laid the foun­da­tion for a six-un­der 66 which saw him come back from three off the lead held by play­ing part­ner Scott Jamieson at the start of play, and win by one from the Scot. And his power hit­ting did seem to in­tim­i­date Jamieson, as well as France’s third­placed Vic­tor ‘D’Artag­nan’ Dubuis­son.

The long, straight drives had him ex­e­cut­ing his ap­proach shots from so much closer to the greens than his ri­vals, help­ing him be­come the first win­ner on the Euro­pean Tour in over three years to hit all 18 greens in reg­u­la­tion. That he missed three or four birdie putts on his three-un­der in­ward loop didn’t mat­ter in the end. The ter­rific tee-shots had laid the plat­form for him to be­come the first South African in 10 years to win the Ned­bank – Trevor Im­mel­man be­ing the last cham­pion in 2007. And his en­thralling “Driv­ing for Dough” was key to him earn­ing a hefty $1,25-mil­lion first place cheque.

I’ve been cov­er­ing golf for over 40 years and I’m strug­gling to re­call a more ex­plo­sive back nine by a South African on a Sun­day (Charl Schwartzel at the 2011 Masters?) with all the pres­sure on. At the 471-yard par-4 15th, for in­stance, Grace flew the fair­way bunkers on the left with a mighty drive that left his sec­ond shot just 89 paces from the green, and he was able to find the putting sur­face with a lob wedge.

By con­trast South Africa’s other ‘Mr Golf ’, De­nis Hutchin­son, re­mem­bers how in the old days of the “Mil­lion Dol­lar” at Sun City in the early 1980s, Lee Trevino also hit the green in two at 15 but it was with a drive and a four­wood! Hutch, of course, will rea­son that clubs and balls made to­day al­low play­ers to hit the ball so much fur­ther.

But the fact re­mains that Grace’s tal­ent, power and self-be­lief en­ables him to play some ex­traor­di­nar­ily spe­cial golf – like win­ning the Al­fred Dun­hill Links in Scot­land 2012 with an amaz­ing first round 12-un­der-un­der 60. And this year he be­came the first player in the sto­ried his­tory of Ma­jor golf to shoot a 62 – in the fi­nal round of The Open at Royal Birk­dale. And now that he’s won ‘Africa’s Ma­jor’ does, as Hayes sug­gests, a real Ma­jor await?

KIISS OF A CHAM­PION: Bran­den Grace cel­e­brates his vic­tory at the Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge at Sun City, at the week­end. Can he now go on to win The Open Cham­pi­onship? PIC­TURE: EPA

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