Divine Grace on the edge of glory
The Sunshine Tour reaches its climax this year at Leopard Creek with it culminating in the local tour’s richest event – the Alfred Dunhill Championship. And the story of the golfer who leads the 2012 Order of Merit is a truly sensational one.
After finishing seventh in the 2011 Order of Merit, Branden Grace decided to give European Tour Qualifying School a go. He earned his full playing card for 2012, and proceeded to take the world by storm. He won the Joburg Open in January where he snared the lead in the Sunshine Tour standings for 2012, and has since rode a wave that’s included three further European Tour wins and a victory at the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final at the Links at Fancourt.
Four European Tour triumphs equalled the record for a player in his rookie season, but the 24-year-old from George has also taken great pride in the fact that he has held the lead in the Order of Merit on his local tour for the whole year. And, although he isn’t quite out of sight yet, closing out the season with that badge of honour is forefront in his mind going into this week.
“The Sunshine Tour Order of Merit is what I’m playing for now. I really want to get my name on that trophy and in the history books for that. If I play well that’s going to take care of itself, so I’m going out there the same as every other week and try to win and compete. If I finish up there, then hopefully the rest takes care of itself,” Grace said in a press conference on Wednesday.
His nearest challenger for the crown is Louis Oosthuizen, who lies nearly R800 000 adrift. However, the chasing pack concertinas somewhat after that, and Grace may well have to take matters into his own hands given that first prize pay-out for the Leopard Creek showpiece is a staggering R2 658 045.
Furthermore, Grace’s track record in the event adds a bit of intrigue to the season’s denouement. In four previous appearances, the man from George has missed the cut on three occasions, and his only finish in the money came courtesy of his tied-53rd place in 2009. Rounds of 69 and 79 last year saw him heading home early, and getting on par with a course that has had the better of him until now will be the first step to glory.
“I always love coming back here, even though I don’t have the best memories of playing here! I think I’m a much better player than a couple of years ago – even than last year. I’m looking forward to what’s in store for this week,” Grace said.
“You can’t really complain coming to a place like this. You’ve got amazing views on this golf course and it’s always in great shape, so it’s going to be a good week I think,” he added.
The co-sanctioned event is without question one of the most special on either Tour’s calendar, but it also has the potential to provide some real tension as the finest golfers on the Sunshine Tour do battle for a hugely prestigious title.
Many would see it as an injustice if Grace’s remarkable 2012 wasn’t rounded off with his name being etched onto the Order of Merit trophy, but with such a talented array of contenders around him and so much at stake, many outcomes are still possible come Sunday.