No horsing around from young Stone
BRANDON Stone roared down the freeway from Centurion to Glendower Golf Club in his shiny new Ford Mustang (the fancy car is part of the fruits of his success as an extraordinarily gifted young professional) early yesterday morning, his Irish manager Jamie Farr beside him.
They were on their way to the course for Stone’s coveted 8.15am tee-time for a practice round with Sir Nick Faldo ahead of today’s first round in the BMW South African Open, in which the 23-year-old Brandon, pictured, is defending champion and is drawn with world No 2 Rory McIlroy and George Coetzee in the first round this morning (7.10am on the 10th).
“There wasn’t room in the back seat of the Mustang for ‘TBG’ (Sebastian Heisele – ‘The Big German’) and France’s Joel Salter, so we had to take two cars and they rode with me in my BMW,” explained Brandon’s father, Kevin. “The Mustang’s a great car, but it’s a sports car and the back seat is so small there’s only room for a couple of midgets and TBG is a really big guy!” Heisele, Salter and Stone first met when they were campaigning on the European Challenge Tour and they’ve remained close friends ever since, and now they’re all on the main tour. And, along with Farr, they’ve all been staying together in Centurion, as was also the case early in December when Brandon rented a house at Leopard Creek, where he won the Alfred Dunhill Championship by a mile to lift his second big trophy on the European Tour.
Stone cheekily tweeted his way into a game with Sir Nick: “My mom (Denise Stone) dug out from the storeroom an old Golf World picture of me when I was just two years old, with the magazine comparing my little swing to Nick Faldo who, of course, was in his prime then,” said Brandon.
“So I tweeted that pic to Sir Nick saying I’d waited 21 years for a game with him, and how about one this week before the SA Open starts. He tweeted back and said ‘fine, see you on the tee’, so how cool is that.”
Yesterday, TBG and Salter joined Faldo, 59, and Stone for the nine-hole practice round, watched by a number of spectators including Kevin and leading South African swing guru Llewellyn Leeuwen, who has been coaching Brandon ever since he was five years old.
“My family and the Stone family go back a long way to when we were neighbours in Centurion,” said Leeuwen. “My first contact with Pebbles (Brandon’s nickname) was as his babysitter when he was about 12 weeks old. Ever since was a laaitie, he’s been so into his golf and so dedicated, and Kevin, who knows the game so well, has been a fantastic mentor for him.”
Asked what he felt what the key was to Brandon’s successes, Leeuwen said: “Well, obviously the right technique is there and he’s strong mentally. But, what sets him apart is he loves people around him; he loves the buzz of a big gallery watching him from behind the ropes. He loves to give the fans an exhibition of his skills, and being drawn with McIlroy is really going to get his juices flowing.”
His father concurs: “When I’m playing a private game with Brandon and there’s no-one around, I feel I can still give him a little bit of a go. In a tournament with plenty of people watching he becomes a show-off and that’s when he produces his best golf.”