Branden Grace was still making his way through the crowds milling around the ninth tee when he heard the roar.
“I just knew it was for Louis Oosthuizen and I thought ‘Damn! Here we go again’,” Grace said later in the day.
Oosthuizen, the South African Open defending champion who had pulled away from Grace at a critical stage of last year’s tournament at Randpark, had just regained the lead in the most sensational fashion possible – with a hole-in-one on the par-three eighth hole, sinking a seven-iron from 211 yards.
But apart from a birdie from eight feet on the par-four 11th, there were no other moments of magic from Oosthuizen on Sunday, his cold putter seeing him par his way in for a 68 and 18-under-par overall.
Typically of the thoroughly decent man South Africa’s highest-ranked golfer is, he said afterwards of his hole-in-one that he “hit it a bit further right than I wanted”.
Instead it was Grace who roared to a scintillating, record-breaking nine-under-par 62, the lowest ever final round to win the SA Open, to finish on 21-under-par overall.
“It took me long enough to get my hands on this trophy, it’s the one I’ve missed because I’ve already won the Alfred Dunhill, Nedbank, Joburg and Di-Data. So it really means a lot to me and it’s really special to beat Louis as well because he just doesn’t make mistakes and I felt I let it slip a bit last year and then he just pulled away. It’s a great way to kickstart the year, one of my goals is already ticked.
“The weather and the course were set up for low scores, but to be three behind is quite a lot and to win by three is remarkable. But I felt in control from the outset, my goal was to try and lead by the ninth hole and I was just so in the zone. It was an amazing day, I kept on pushing and staying in the moment, I knew what I had to do and it was a spectacular day,” Grace said after his round.
Such was Grace’s determination to win the SA Open that he cut short his Christmas holidays to ensure he arrived at Randpark ready to hit peak speed from the first round. The 31-year-old credited the groundwork laid before the tournament for his performance on Sunday, when he showed such composure under pressure to come from behind with dazzling golf.
“There was a lot of hard work in preparation for this event, I headed off early from my holiday, put in the hours and made sure I switched it up when I got here. Sometimes those rounds just happen in golf but it is such a great feeling and it makes it extra special after what happened last year. There was just too much going on last year.
“I feel I didn’t play that badly, but there was a lot to get my head around with my Dad having a heart attack, we were building a house, I became a father and I also now have new management and a new caddy. But it leaves a sour taste not to make majors, so making sure I’m back at the Open this year was one of my goals. I don’t think my putter has ever been that hot before, I was so in the moment that you forget your score,” Grace said with the broadest of grins.