How far has South African golf come?
How often do you hear pundits and commentators marvel at the strength of South African golf nowadays? A look at the leaderboard of this week’s European Tour-sanctioned Joburg Open shows the level of domination our players have imposed, and, as ever, there is every chance that a local will be holding the trophy aloft.
This week’s showpiece at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club marks the 50th event to be co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the Sunshine Tour since the South African Open was first given European Tour status in 1997.
South Africa now boasts six co-sanctioned events – by far the highest of any single country.
In the previous 49 events, a South African has clinched victory on more than 30 occasions. In fact, at the South African Open alone, we have had a home winner in 12 of the 17 events since it was co-sanctioned; and 10 of the last 12.
Of course, given that these events take place on home soil, the field is naturally littered with South Africans, and chances of victory thus improve.
But a brief look at the official world golf rankings demonstrates the rise of our country as a golfing powerhouse in the last 20 years.
At the end of 1993, South Africa had seven golfers inside the top 150 – the highest ranked of which was David Frost in 11th.
Ten years later, this figure had shrunk to just six, although Ernie Els led the way at No 3. However, it has leapt up to 11 at present, and a good finish this week for Jaco van Zyl - currently knocking on the door in 159th - could see him increase this to 12.
In 1993, the sum total of the top-six ranked South Africans’ ranking positions was 342. This figure whittled down slightly to 333 in 2003.
But ten years later, it has improved dramatically to 176! Not only are we well-represented in the top 150, but we actually have six players in the top 60 – second only to the United States.
The Sunshine Tour famously takes on the slogan “where great golfers graduate.” Every single one of these players who are making waves today cut their teeth on our local tour, and it is a testament to our ever growing professional circuit that we have come as far as we have.
Six co-sanctioned events, the Tournament of Hope still potentially in the pipeline, and a sea of talent second only to a country four times bigger than ours. Rosy times for South African golf indeed.
I wonder where we’ll be in 2023?