Zack Rasego - master caddie
Tournament golf is not usually thought of as a team game, but ask any of golf’s greatest champions and they will tell you that their caddies are as important as any club in the bag. In golfing terms, the old adage ‘Behind every great man is a great woman’ would read: ‘Behind every great golfer, there is a great caddie’.
In the case of four-time European Tour winner Branden Grace, his rise to stardom throughout 2012 has certainly been underpinned by the constant presence of his experienced and talented caddie, Zack Rasego. And Grace’s bagman will be right there on his side when Grace launches his title defence at the Volvo Golf Champions at the Durban Country Club from 10-13th January next year.
But, although Grace and Rasego are one of the most recognisable pairs on television today, it was South Africa’s Grand Slam champion Gary Player who first recognised Rasego’s potential in 1979 when the North West Province native was just a lad of 16.
Whilst he was involved in creating the internationally renowned Sun City, Player introduced a caddie programme, through which Rasego rose to be Caddie of the Year in 1980. “Zack was a quick learner and someone who had a great eye for the job,” said Player.
Linked to the prize was the opportunity to caddie for Player in Europe. It would be his first trip abroad, but following two weeks on the South African legend’s bag, Rasego’s career was decided. After a few years in South Africa, he ventured back to Europe where he spent most of his career since.
Among the players Rasego served was a seven year stint with current world No 5, Louis Oosthuizen. The highlight of their partnership was their outstanding seven-shot victory at the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews. Appropriately, the final day of that triumph was actually the first ever Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July 2010 and Oosthuizen dedicated his victory to the former President, calling it ‘a truly South African win for a truly great South African’.
When Oosthuizen and Rasego parted ways in 2011, this opened the door for Grace to acquire the services of Rasego for the European Tour Qualifying School. After a successful campaign, the pair continued to make a stupendous impact on the golfing world with back-to-back victories in the Joburg Open and Volvo Golf Champions, followed by more success in the Volvo China Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. And they have even found time for a quick trip back to Fancourt to capture the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final title on the Sunshine Tour.
Rasego’s calming influence on Grace shone through during the final rounds of the Joburg Open and the Volvo Golf Champions play-off against the young turk’s idols, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. And during the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, his experience once again gave Grace the edge.
The 23-year-old was struggling with his pace on the greens at St Andrews and told Rosego to jump in with reading the lines. Rasego complied and birdies at the 12th, 13th and 14th saw them draw comfortably clear of the field, setting up the youngster’s fourth European Tour victory for the season.
In November, Rasego was named the 2012 HSBC Caddie of the Year. After receiving the trophy during a prestigious awards ceremony, Rasego spoke about what this recognition from the players, caddies and media meant to him.
“Honestly, I never expected to win; it came as a complete surprise. I was at a complete loss for words when they made the announcement,” he said. “Back in 1979, I was given an opportunity by Gary Player. I was just 16 and I grabbed it with both hands and the job has taken me to a lot of places. It has given me so many wonderful moments.
“I had a tough start as a young, black man and it was wonderful to be honoured in this way by the players, the media and my peers. For me, it was another South African victory.”
Rasego also reflected on the past 12 months. “Working with Branden since Tour School in 2011 has been an amazing experience,” he said. “He is an incredibly talented player and he will be making an impression for years to come. His victory at Fancourt was one of the highlights of my career, because I watched a young man overcome his nerves to beat two of his biggest idols for the Volvo Golf Champions title.
“That victory really gave him the self-confidence to believe he is a winner. I look forward to teeing it up at Durban Country Club in January and to give Branden every chance to defend his title.”
Coincidentally, Rasego will be joined by one of the greatest caddies of all time at the Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club.
Fanny Sunesson, who caddied for Nick Faldo for many years including four of his Major wins, has been appointed as the Tournament Director for the World Final of the Volvo World Golf Challenge, which runs concurrently with the Volvo Golf Champions at the Zimbali Golf Resort.
Recently retired, Sunesson will doubtless enjoy catching up with many of her former work colleagues the leading World Finalists each get to team up with two star professionals to take part in ‘Playing With The Pros’ segment at Durban Country Club.