Opinion - Is the golden age of SA golf already over?

File. How long will it be before we see a South African winner a men’s major again? Seen here: Ernie Els in his winner's press conference at the 2012 Open championship at Royal Lytham & St Anne's in 2012. Picture credit: Michael Sherman

File. How long will it be before we see a South African winner a men’s major again? Seen here: Ernie Els in his winner's press conference at the 2012 Open championship at Royal Lytham & St Anne's in 2012. Picture credit: Michael Sherman

Published Mar 31, 2024


With the year’s first major, The Masters at Augusta, less than two weeks away, one has to ask: Is the golden age of South African men’s golf already over?

The last time a South African won a men’s major, Oscar Pistorius was still a revered global super star, Nelson Mandela was alive and Netflix wasn’t yet a thing.

When Ernie Els launched a late final-round charge to overtake a faltering Adam Scott at The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s in 2012, it was South Africa’s third major victory in as many years for the Rainbow Nation.

Charl Schwartzel had won The Masters in 2011, and Louis Oosthuizen was a runaway victor by seven at The Open Championship at St Andrews in 2010.

‘Four in five’

Throw in Trevor Immelman’s Masters victory in 2008, and it brought SA’s major tally to four in five years.

Before that, Retief Goosen had won the US Open in 2001 and 2004 while Els had won his first Open Championship in 2002 and his third overall.

In the '90s, of course, Els was South Africa’s main flag bearer with two US Open victories of his own in 1994 and 1997. Additionally, to his credit, Els reached world number one for eight weeks in 1998 while a certain Tiger Woods was beginning to dominate the golfing landscape.

It has to be said, though, that since 2012, Oosthuizen has been easily South Africa’s best golfer, and he could have quite easily won more than a few majors in this period. 'King Louis,' as he was known after his Open victory all those years ago, has since gone on to finish runner-up on six occasions in the majors and finished third twice. In fact, he has finished second in every major at least once and has twice been runner-up at the PGA Championship and US Open.

It’s also generally accepted that if you win 10 times on the European Tour (now DP World Tour - DPWT), you can call yourself a great player. Oosthuizen has won 11 times, and his good pal Schwartzel also has the same number of wins in Europe.

The pair still don’t compare to Els though, as Els won 28 times on the European Tour and 19 times on the US PGA Tour for good measure.

An honourable mention goes to Branden Grace who has nine victories on the DPWT, which included four in his breakthrough season in 2012.

Competing on the US senior tour now, Els’s competitive playing days on the regular tour are behind him at the age of 54.

Few more good years

Oosthuizen at 41 could still have a few more good years in him, Schwartzel at 39 maybe even more, while Grace at 35 is around the peak years of a pro golfer.

There’s just one problem when it comes to this trio, though, and that is that they now play on the LIV Golf series. The unimaginative name of the tour means 54 in Roman numerals, indicating that the events are only 54 holes (three rounds) and not the traditional 72 holes.

This means they don’t receive world ranking points, and it essentially means players who ply their trade there can’t qualify for the majors, unless they are a recent champion or have won the Masters which gives lifetime exemptions for its winners.

South Africa do have some youngsters still in the top 100 in the world at the moment with Christiaan Bezuidenhout at 55th, Erik van Rooyen at 60th and Thriston Lawrence at number 90.

Bezuidenhout is 29, Van Rooyen is 34 and Lawrence is 27. Since landing his maiden DPWT win in 2021, Lawrence has now collected four wins in Europe. While Bezuidenhout (3) and Van Rooyen (one) have fewer DPWT victories, they are both campaigning on the US PGA Tour.

It is perhaps from one of this trio where SA could potentially find their next major win, but at this stage it seems like quite a long shot.

In the meantime, and for the foreseeable future for that matter, SA golf fans will have to remain interested spectators as the Americans continue to fight it out for major wins. It’s still great to watch, but it’s better if you have a player in the game.

* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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