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Exciting players, exciting times

What a week it’s been for South African golf. Thomas Aiken repeated compatriot Jbe Kruger’s triumph at the 2012 Avantha Masters by sealing a magnificent three-stroke victory in India on Sunday. Later that day, the Sunshine Tour’s depth of local talent once again flexed its muscle, with Jaco van Zyl clinching his second Telkom PGA Championship title, before 10-time PGA Tour winner David Frost stormed to a five-stroke win at the Champions Tour’s Toshiba Classic in California just hours later.

In fact, it could have been even better, with George Coetzee going into the final round of the Tampa Bay Championship on the PGA Tour in a share of the lead, but a final of round of 74 cost him a chance of a maiden professional victory abroad. However, it remains merely a matter of time before he takes his place on the winner’s podium in an event of such magnitude.

But these results were no flash in the pan, and they further underlined the emergence of South Africa as a golfing powerhouse. We now boast 12 players in the world’s top 150, and six in the top 60! On both counts, we are second only to the United States. If you consider that only 10 years ago we had just six players in the top 150, it represents a meteoric rise.

The consistent results from our stars reflects in the current Presidents Cup standings too. Nick Price will be taking a 12-man side to Ohio in October in an attempt to revive what has become an increasingly one-sided event, and the complexion of his team is likely to be largely South African. Louis Oosthuizen tops the standings, and has five more of his countrymen for company in the 10 automatic spots.

PGA Tour winner Tim Clark lies 12th, while Darren Fichardt and Van Zyl are also currently in the top 20. Even Aiken, who set a seemingly over-ambitious goal at the beginning of the year to qualify for the team, now finds himself in 24th, and is anything but out of the running.

Matchplay is a vastly different game to medal, and the performance of the non-South Africans is potentially a significant variable. But this year’s showpiece still represents a massive opportunity for South African golf to show that it has closed the gap on America, and Fred Couples’ team could well be in for a heck of a battle against some inspired men from the Republic in six months.

But every one of these players who are threatening to be selected and scooping titles around the world cut their teeth on the Sunshine Tour. Our local Tour provided the platform for these men to develop their game, and it is a testament to our extraordinarily competitive circuit that we are able to produce such rich golfing talent.

Let’s not forget, we are a country feeling the full weight of a recession, and the depreciating Rand is making the game considerably less affordable to the masses. Golf is an expensive game at the best of times, and in today’s economic climate, logic would suggest that the standard might drop in a nation such as ours.

But it certainly hasn’t. Instead we now have six co-sanctioned events with the European Tour – more than any other country. We also have a sea of golfing talent second only to a country four times bigger than our own. Yet the most logic-defying thing of all is that it seems like we’re just getting started.

Exciting times indeed for South African golf. Don’t be too surprised if the best is yet to come.

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