Fans out in force for Rory

McIl­roy got the peo­ple through the gates, now to keep them com­ing back

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JAC­QUES WESTHUYZEN VAN DER

THEY came in their thou­sands. They lined the fair­ways and sur­rounded the greens – all to get a look at Rory McIl­roy.

It didn’t mat­ter who else was in his group or play­ing in the South African Open. Heck, not even even­tual win­ner Graeme Storm got much of a look-in. But boy, did the two men pro­duce the goods on a thrilling fi­nal day at Glen­dower on Sun­day.

It was, in the words of Sun­shine Tour mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Dun­can Cruick­shank, and “ab­so­lutely un­be­liev­able” tour­na­ment and fi­nal day’s play.

“I stood in that me­dia cen­tre (which over­looks the 18th green) and was just amazed at how the crowd rushed for­ward when they opened up the ropes af­ter Rory had passed. What I hope the four days at Glen­dower has done is en­cour­age sports fans to give golf a chance. I hope we see those fans com­ing back, be it the SA Open, Joburg Open or Tsh­wane Open.”

Cruick­shank said in ex­cess of 20000 peo­ple streamed through the gates of Glen­dower over the four days; a mas­sive num­ber for golf in this coun­try.

“We haven’t seen crowds like that at golf in this coun­try for decades. Rory has that kind of pulling power, a mag­netism, and the word I got from his man­age­ment team is he ap­pre­ci­ated the warmth of the fans, too. Also, they said he felt the crowds were among the best he’d played in front of and the at­mos­phere among the best he’s ex­pe­ri­enced.”

The trick for Cruick­shank and Co is to now try and get the likes of McIl­roy back next year, or even a Ricky Fowler, Jor­dan Spi­eth or Dustin John­son. Heck, even Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Bran­den Grace wouldn’t be bad.

“The chances of Rory com­ing back are ex­cel­lent. He’ll spread the word over­seas and with the footage that was beamed all over the world on Sun­day I’m sure there will be some golfers who would have looked at that and thought ‘I want to go there’.

“Rory was blown away by his ex­pe­ri­ence at Lon­dolozi (in the bushveld) and I know he had a good time So he could be back sooner than we think,” said Cruick­shank. “It’s re­ally all about the re­la­tion­ships these top play­ers have with one an­other… Ernie Els sup­ported Rory (and his foun­da­tion in Ire­land) and he paid back the favour by com­ing out here now, to also help Ernie out (with his Els for Autism foun­da­tion).

“The big­gest problem for us get­ting ev­ery­one we want to play at the SA Open is the date of the event. Re­mem­ber it’s a Sun­shine Tour event, but then we also have to fall in line with the Euro­pean Tour, then there are the four ma­jors, the four WGC events, the Ry­der Cup or Pres­i­dents Cup… it’s a real night­mare for a player try­ing to fit every­thing in.”

In­deed. It’s also im­por­tant to keep in mind that the likes of Schwartzel, Oosthuizen and Grace – this coun­try’s top three play­ers – are now based in the US, their kids are in school there and their lives are based around what hap­pens in Amer­ica. And, they’ve got to try and get in a hol­i­day, too, some­times.

“Yes, and also these guys are on an­other level now, look­ing to plan around the PGA Tour sea­son, the ma­jors, get­ting into the top 10 or 20, try­ing to get as many world rank­ing points as pos­si­ble,” ex­plains Cruick­shank.

“But also, we try to en­cour­age these play­ers to not for­get about their roots… the Sun­shine Tour’s motto is, af­ter all, ‘It be­gins here’.

“It’s easy for us to point fin­gers, but they have to do what’s best for their ca­reers. Of course they want to play in their own Open, but it sim­ply isn’t work­ing out for them right now.”

The next big event lo­cally is the Joburg Open, to be played at Royal Johannesburg and Kens­ing­ton Golf Club from Fe­bru­ary 23-26.

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