It is one of the great love stories in golf. The husband and wife team of Daniel and Abi van Tonder continues to flourish on the fairways with victory after victory, the latest of which in the Kenya Savannah Classic in March earned them a European Tour card.
In the last nine months Team Van Tonder has won five times. Van Tonder heads into this week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am at Fancourt as a man very much on the rise in the world rankings. His performances on the Sunshine Tour also saw him experience a World Golf Championship event this year, and he will make his Major debut in the upcoming PGA Championship.
At every opportunity he gets, Van Tonder credits his wife and caddie Abi for the calming influence she is on his bag. Her impact on his life has been far greater though. A quiet and almost shy woman from a humble upbringing in the small town of Potgietersrus, she has been the rock that helped him get through the most difficult years in his life.
Van Tonder suffered immense and sustained emotional trauma as a child and teenager. It carried over into his early professional career and it could quite easily have broken him. “It was a very difficult time for him. The whole of 2015, 2016 and 2017 was especially bad,” says Abi. There is no need to retell here exactly what happened, because this is a love story. And Abi came along at exactly the right time in his life.
She was quite literally a lifeline for Van Tonder when, on that tournament day in December 2013, he walked up to her coffee station on the driving range at Mount Edgecombe during the Nelson Mandela Championship.
“He came over and bought a coffee from me, and started a conversation,” says Abi.
But much like a challenging golf course, Van Tonder was going to need to use every club in his bag to win the heart of the lady at the coffee station.
“We’re both Afrikaans speaking, but I spoke English to him because to be honest I wasn’t really interested,” she says with a laugh.
“He came to buy a coffee quite early and I wasn’t actually open yet. I told him he needed to wait for his change.”
And that’s when Van Tonder delivered the “shot” of his lifetime that would’ve made even Cupid blush.
“He told me he’d wait for a pretty face anytime,” says Abi. “We just kept in contact from there. Then we started dating in 2014, and the following year we were engaged.”
As simple as Van Tonder likes to keep things on the golf course, he certainly makes up for it as a romantic. His proposal to Abi was definitely one for the books.
“He proposed to me when he played in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2015. But then he said it’s half a proposal because he wants to do it properly. After the tournament he took me in a helicopter ride to the Valley of a Thousand Hills in KwaZulu-Natal, and we had a picnic on the mountain there. He proposed to me there. It was quite special.
“Caddying wasn’t actually in the picture. I wanted to be a game ranger. But it went that way, and now here we are.”
Abi has had a front-row seat to Van Tonder’s transformation as a golfer over the past few years to the point where he now has a European Tour card, is playing in Majors, and is working hard to break into the top 50 on the world rankings from his current position of 75th.
“He’s matured a lot on the golf course. He used to be too aggressive on the course and he would get angry with himself.
“I joke with him now that he’s getting older so can’t get so angry anymore. So now if he gets angry, he’s over it by the next tee box. I like to joke with him a lot during a round. For example, in Kenya (during the final round of the European Tour’s Kenya Savannah Classic) he made back-to-back bogeys on the second nine. When he made the second bogey I turned to him and called him an egg. I was just like, ‘You’re such an egg’.
“He just gave me this comical look, and when the camera was pointing at him he just smiled. It’s little things like that which just break the seriousness a bit. I know him when he gets too serious. It’s not good for him, when he’s too zoned in. He almost loses focus then.”
And now it’s time to take this love story on the road, as the two of them embark on their European Tour adventure. Albeit with the restrictions of love in the time of Covid.
“It’s going to be fun travelling on the European Tour, but the sad part is that with Covid we can’t do any sightseeing,” says Abi.
Either way, you still know that the happiest player-caddie couple in golf are going to have a fun time together.