Young Stone

The Star Late Edition - - SPORT - GRANT WIN­TER JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

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, 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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AT No2 in the world rank­ings, Rory McIl­roy is by far the out­right favourite to tri­umph at the South African Open to be played at Glen­dower from to­day, but if it’s got any­thing to do with Retief Goosen, he and fel­low vet­eran Ernie Els will be up there push­ing the North­ern Ir­ish­man all the way come Sun­day.

It’s been 10 years since two-time US Open cham­pion Goosen tri­umphed at the SA Open, in 2005, with his first na­tional Open ti­tle com­ing 10 years be­fore that, in 1995, but the now 47-yearold feels he still has the game to chal­lenge for a third ti­tle, es­pe­cially be­cause the tour­na­ment is at Glen­dower.

“I love this golf course. I’ve played here since I was a ju­nior and I know ev­ery inch of the course,” said a fairly up­beat Goosen yes­ter­day, ahead of to­day’s first round.

Goosen’s off at mid­day on the first tee, some five hours af­ter McIl­roy tees it up in his first round.

The smooth-swing­ing South African, who fin­ished tied fourth last year, five shots be­hind win­ner Bran­don Stone, feels McIl­roy could find play­ing in Joburg a lit­tle tougher than he thinks.

“The course is right in front of you. There are no real blind shots, but there’s a lit­tle el­e­va­tion on some holes and I don’t know how much Rory has ac­tu­ally played at altitude,” said Goosen. “If you’re not used to it, it’s dif­fi­cult to judge some­times how far the ball goes, and I’m sure we’ll prob­a­bly see him over-club­bing on some holes.

“Also, the course is play­ing long and there are a lot of sub­tle breaks on the greens.” But, hav­ing said that, Goosen still feels the world No 2 will do well on the clas­sic lay­out. “When you play well it doesn’t mat­ter what course you play … you seem to find a way to make a good score. Rory is the guy to beat.”

Goosen, though, is hope­ful of a good show­ing. “The course looks par­tic­u­larly good this year. The rough’s up and it’s tougher and I like play­ing tough and dif­fi­cult cour­ses.

“It would be nice come Sun­day af­ter­noon and I’m in con­tention. I’m hop­ing for con­sis­tency in my game, but it comes down to the putting and this year the driv­ing, be­cause of the thick rough. It’s grow­ing daily by an inch.

“But this is a course that suits my eye and I be­lieve a lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence will help one this week. Wouldn’t it be great if Rory’s up there on Sun­day, and maybe my­self and Ernie … and some young­sters too? I hope I have a chance.”

McIl­roy spent no less than three­and-a-half hours prac­tis­ing yes­ter­day morn­ing, while the likes of Els opted to play a few holes in the hot highveld sun.

The “Big Easy”, like Goosen, is op­ti­mistic of a good show­ing but is un­cer­tain of what kind of form he’s in, while fel­low South Africans Jaco van Zyl, Ge­orge Coet­zee, Dean Burmester, Thomas Aiken, Justin Wal­ters, Darren Fichardt and Hen­nie Otto will all be keen to beat McIl­roy and lift the fa­mous tro­phy.

And, of course, de­fend­ing cham­pion Stone is brim­ming with con­fi­dence fol- low­ing his win at the Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship in De­cem­ber and shoot­ing a 61 in prac­tice on Mon­day.

For­mer cham­pion Andy Sul­li­van, who won here in 2015, and Morten Orum Mad­sen, win­ner in 2013, will also be keen to find some form again, while Darren Clarke, Jamie Don­ald­son and Lu­cas Bjer­re­gaard will fly the flag with McIl­roy for the vis­i­tors to Glen­dower. First round: 6.50am, 10th tee; Sec­ond round: 11.50am, 1st tee: Ernie Els, Andy Sul­li­van, Thomas Aiken First round: 7.00am, 10th tee; Sec­ond round: noon, 1st tee: Jamie Don­ald­son, Haydn Porteous, Matthew South­gate First round: 7.10am, 10th tee; Sec­ond round: 12.10pm, 1st tee: Bran­don Stone, Rory McIl­roy, Ge­orge Coet­zee First round: 11.50am, 1st tee; Sec­ond round: 6.50am, 10th tee: Richard Bland, Nick Faldo, Justin Wal­ters First round: noon, 1st tee; Sec­ond round, 7.00am, 10th tee: Darren Fichardt, Retief Goosen, Hen­nie Otto First round: 12.10pm, 1st tee; Sec­ond round: 7.10am, 10th tee: James Mor­ri­son, Mar­cel Siem, Jaco van Zyl

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