The rise of MJ
Pretoria’s MJ Daffue has made a lot of noise in golfing circles in the United States. But his achievements, and indeed his talent, are something of an unknown quantity in his homeland.
MJ, or Matthys as he was named when born in January 1989, matriculated in 2007 at Waterkloof Hoërskool. That year, he scooped the South African Boys title and was named Sportsmen of the Year at his school.
The following year he was given a scholarship to Lee University in the States where he earned NAIA All-American honours. One year later, he was snapped up by the Lamar University in Texas, and it was here that he really excelled. In 2011 he was named Southland Conference Player of the Year and First Team All-Southland Conference, and in his final season last year he was named to the Division One Ping All-Central Region Team. By the time he graduated in June 2012, he had racked up an impressive résumé and was ready to turn pro.
But it was a return to his native South Africa that appealed to him most, and he gained his Sunshine Tour card through Qualifying School last month.
“I was very keen to come back to South Africa. I obviously haven’t played much here recently because I’ve been playing college golf in the States the last four years. Q-school was my first tournament as a pro in South Africa, but I was very confident and it’s great that I got my card,” Daffue told supersport.com on Friday at the Joburg Open.
“I still have some tournaments in the States I want to play in, but I’ll come back later and play in more events.”
The 24-year-old has already made the most of his efforts in qualifying school. Two weeks ago, in his maiden Sunshine Tour event, he wrapped up a fourth-place finish in the Telkom PGA Pro-Am, and the result ensured his passage into the Joburg Open.
And it’s a case of so far, so good for Daffue. A six-under opening round of 65 at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club’s West Course catapulted him up the leaderboard, and he backed it up impressively with a two-under par 70 at the East Course on Friday. It represents an unbelievable start to his professional career, and Daffue is simply savouring the experience.
“It’s definitely living the dream, but I’m just taking it day by day. It will probably sink in tomorrow morning,” Daffue smiled.
“It’s the first time I’m playing with grandstands and ropes, so I had to get used to that, but so far it’s been going well. I’ll have to deal with the crowds tomorrow and prepare myself mentally beforehand. I like to relish the moment, so maybe under the gun with lots of people I can give them something entertaining,” he added.
On the outskirts of the top-10 at the halfway mark of the tournament, Daffue will be mixing it up with the likes of Richard Sterne, George Coetzee and Charl Schwartzel on the weekend, and the prospect of following in the footsteps of Branden Grace, whose career was launched by victory here last year, is an exciting one.
“Over the last four years I’ve been in the States, but I always follow the Joburg Open online. I think part of why young guys come through here is because no one knows them. And the young guys play with passion and enthusiasm, enjoying the moment.
“I’ve just got to be careful not to get caught up in that and just play golf. They don’t know me, but I’m sure we’ll get to know each other,” said Daffue.