Sunday Times

Mar­riage agrees with Stone

The South African is in con­tention on the Old Course at St An­drews

- By MICHAEL VLIS­MAS

● In his first tour­na­ment back since his wed­ding, the hon­ey­moon con­tin­ues for Bran­don Stone.

The young South African was sport­ing a wed­ding ring for the first time in front of Euro­pean Tour tele­vi­sion as he talked through a 65 on the Old Course of St An­drews yes­ter­day that has him in a share of sev­enth in the Al­fred Dun­hill Links Cham­pi­onship, and five shots off the 14-un­der-par lead of Eng­land’s

Tyrrell Hat­ton.

But while the wed­ding ring is some­thing new, Stone’s po­si­tion on a leader­board in Scot­land is be­com­ing quite fa­mil­iar. And for some­one who ad­mits he had to teach him­self how to play and en­joy links golf, he heads into Sun­day’s fi­nal round fast be­com­ing a young master at the purest form of the game.

In July Stone won the Scot­tish Open for the third Euro­pean Tour ti­tle of his ca­reer, and with an in­cred­i­ble 60 in the fi­nal round.

“If you’d told me five years ago that I would en­joy play­ing links golf I would’ve said no ways. I seem to have found my way of play­ing links golf, which has been a lot of fun. I love the cre­ative as­pect of it. You hit shots here that you don’t hit any­where else in the world. It’s some­thing you can’t re­ally teach some­body. You have to learn it your­self. It’s taken me the bet­ter part of a decade to come up with my way of play­ing links

I seem to have found my way of play­ing links golf, which has been a lot of fun. I love the cre­ative as­pect of it. You hit shots here you don’t hit any­where else

golf,” said Stone.

That win also marked the first time that Stone felt he could fi­nally lift his head from what he says was the tough­est 18 months of his ca­reer be­fore this.

Af­ter rac­ing to two Euro­pean Tour ti­tles, one Sun­shine Tour Or­der of Merit ti­tle with record earn­ings of over R7m, and mak­ing his­tory as a mem­ber of SA’s first Olympic golf team all by the age of 23, Stone felt he had be­gun driv­ing him­self harder than even his own am­bi­tion could keep up with.

“I strug­gled with the re­sults I wasn’t get­ting on the golf course, and got quite down on my­self. I just didn’t feel good about my­self. So three weeks be­fore the Scot­tish Open I made a con­scious de­ci­sion to start treat­ing my­self a bit bet­ter and stop putting my­self un­der so much pres­sure to per­form.”

The re­laxed na­ture of this celebrity proam tour­na­ment has proved the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for this.

Both Hat­ton and Tommy Fleet­wood, mem­bers of the vic­to­ri­ous Euro­pean Ry­der Cup team, have de­scribed the Al­fred Dun­hill Links Cham­pi­onship as the best event to fol­low the in­ten­sity of the Ry­der Cup.

Fleet­wood is among those chas­ing Hat­ton from his to­tal of 11-un­der, while Aus­tralia’s Mar­cus Fraser is the near­est chal­lenger on 13-un­der.

Stone is also clear on what he’s up against to­day, and it’s not just go­ing to be the weather. For only the fourth time in Euro­pean Tour his­tory the fi­nal round will fea­ture a shotgun start and an ear­lier tee-off to beat the grim fore­cast of high winds. Then there is the mat­ter of Hat­ton, who loves links golf, and clearly loves this tour­na­ment as he seeks to be­come the first three-time win­ner of the Al­fred Dun­hill Links Cham­pi­onship, hav­ing tri­umphed in 2016 and 2017.

The last golfer to do that on the Euro­pean Tour — ex­clud­ing World Golf Cham­pi­onship events — was Ernie Els in the Heineken Clas­sic from 2002-2004.

“I’ve felt very much in con­trol this week. Hope­fully I can keep play­ing solid golf and putting well like I have been,” said Stone.

“Look, any­time you get to walk on the 18th green of the Old Course in a tour­na­ment on a Sun­day is quite spe­cial, and to do so and be in con­tention would be fan­tas­tic.”

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