Staying calm is always a major requirement on the final day of a golf tournament when one is trying to close out a maiden win, and Englishman Chris Paisley kept his head in impressive fashion as he pulled off a superb three-stroke victory in the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club on Sunday.
The 31-year-old, ranked number 289 in the world, had never finished higher than third in 120 previous European Tour starts, and he had eight-time winner and home favourite Branden Grace hot on his heels as he began the final round just one stroke ahead.
He was under immediate pressure as Grace went birdie-eagle on the first two holes to snatch the lead, but Paisley produced immaculate golf as he shot a marvellous, bogey-free, six-under-par 66 to finish on 21-under-par, the best SA Open winning score since Ernie Els triumphed in 2010 with 25-under at Durban Country Club.
“It’s amazing, I can’t really believe it,” the softly-spoken Paisley said afterwards.
“To play the golf I did today, on that golf course, against Branden, in that situation and with quite a biased crowd, was pretty incredible. In the past when I’ve been near the lead, I’ve fallen away a bit and I was starting to feel I struggle with pressure.
“But today I felt good, I was calm and comfortable, I felt like I was playing well. I was never quite sure that I would get to do it, but to walk up the 18th fairway with the fantastic crowd then cheering me and going nuts was one of the most special feelings I’ve had and I definitely want to have it again,” Paisley said.
By the fourth hole, Paisley had drawn level with his second birdie and he was three ahead at the turn as Grace’s challenge began to wane following a double-bogey at the par-three sixth when he took two shots to get out of a greenside bunker and then missed a six-foot putt for bogey.
Grace was done and dusted, five behind, by the 12th hole when he mishit his tee shot into the creek crossing the fairway, and Paisley was able to stroll to a most accomplished victory.
So how did a journeyman such as Paisley manage to raise his game so dramatically to another level? He said his success had its roots in a change to his practice routine.
“I felt the gap between tournament play and my practice was too big, even though I’ve always been a hard worker. But you can almost go through the motions in practice and then you start a new year feeling rusty and nervous, like last year when I came here and shot eight-over-par and missed the cut.
“So I’ve drawn up a new plan in which I put pressure on myself in practice, there are punishments which involve doing really embarrassing things on the range. That puts me under pressure when I’m practising and I think it was one of the big keys to how I handled the pressure today,” the slender Paisley said.