No hors­ing around from young Stone

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - GRANT WIN­TER

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.”

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