Els and co must roll up their sleeves at US Open

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - GRANT WIN­TER

THIS be­ing a US Open week I’ve done what I usu­ally do and that is, just for in­ter­est, look up in my US Open Al­manac who won Amer­ica’s fa­bled championship 100 years ago.

This took me back to 1917 but there wasn’t a US Open that year be­cause of the Great War. The tour­na­ment re­turned in 1919 at Brae Burn CC in Mas­sachusetts. At the end of 72 holes of reg­u­la­tion play that larger than life, mag­nif­i­cent show­man, no­to­ri­ous party an­i­mal and su­perb golfer that was Wal­ter Ha­gen and lit­tle-known Mike Brady were tied at the top on 301.

That called for an 18-hole play-off and leg­end has it that af­ter the fi­nal round of reg­u­la­tion play ‘The Haig’ at­tended a party thrown by Al John­son and stayed out all night. Next morn­ing, af­ter a quick shower, Ha­gen ar­rived at the course for the play-off.

Brady parred the first hole to go one up but on the sec­ond tee the fol­low­ing ex­change took place:

“Mike, if I were you I’d roll down my sleeves,” said Ha­gan. “Why?” Brady en­quired. “So all the gallery won’t see your mus­cles quiv­er­ing,” replied Ha­gen.

Brady, in­tim­i­dated by the great man, hooked his drive which led to a six and Ha­gen went on to win.

Ha­gen saw the world as his oys­ter, stay­ing in the best ho­tel suites, dress­ing grandly, of­ten ar­riv­ing at the course in a chauf­feur-driven limou­sine and he was apt to give his first place cheque to his cad­die.

In a fab­u­lous and colour­ful 30-year ca­reer he won 11 Ma­jors, 60 tour­na­ments and played in 1500 ex­hi­bi­tion matches around the world, in­clud­ing in South Africa.

In ex­plain­ing his all-night party bouts be­fore a tour­na­ment round and pitch­ing up at the first tee still in his tuxedo, Ha­gen said: “The rest of the field might have been in bed, but they most as­suredly were sim­ply toss­ing and turn­ing and not sleep­ing. I felt it more rest­ful to stay up rather than to toss and turn.”

This flam­boy­ant Amer­i­can is part of the game’s rich his­tory and, hope­fully, one of eight South Africans in the US Open be­gin­ning at Erin Hills in Wis­con­sin to­mor­row will add to that his­tory with a fa­mous vic­tory.

Close to 10 000 golfers tried to qual­ify for the US Open. So to have eight play­ers – Els, Schwartzel, Oosthuizen, Grace, Thomas Aiken, Ge­orge Coet­zee, Oliver Bekker and young Bran­don Stone - in the fi­nal 156-man line-up is just a re­minder that we’re not a bad golf­ing na­tion. Schwartzel is in fine form af­ter fin­ish­ing tied sec­ond be­hind Daniel Berger in the PGA tour’s FedEx St Jude Clas­sic on Sun­day, while you can never dis­count Grace and Oosthuizen (he seems re­laxed and I like his chances) as con­tenders this week. Two-time US Open cham­pion Els is not the force he once was, but don’t be sur­prised to see some good golf from Stone who al­though still only 24 has won both the BMW South African Open and Al­fred Dun­hill Championship on the Euro­pean Tour.

Well done to our own Dy­lan Frit­telli, like Stone a for­mer SA am­a­teur No 1, for reg­is­ter­ing his maiden Euro­pean Tour win in the Ly­oness Open in Aus­tria on Sun­day, with com­pa­triot Jbe Kruger joint run­ner-up. Frit­telli played col­lege golf for the Univer­sity of Texas where he won the de­ci­sive match to lead his team to vic­tory at the 2012 NCAA Cham­pi­onships and he’s shown steady im­prove­ment as a pro­fes­sional in the past four or five years.

Fi­nally, just a word on the late, great Vin­cent Tsha­bal­ala who passed away ear­lier this month aged 75. He won nine times as a pro­fes­sional in­clud­ing the French Open in 1972 at Le Tou­quet with a score of 272. The fol­low­ing year, at the same course, Seve Balles­teros took the honours on a re­turn 10 shots worse.

Tsha­bal­ala was an amaz­ing tal­ent and, had it not been for apartheid which cost him many op­por­tu­ni­ties on the fair­ways of the world, he surely would have won more. He al­ways had a smile and in pro-ams, as I dis­cov­ered, he was al­ways happy to help you with your dodgy swing.

Fine man, fine golfer.

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