Branden Grace is back at his most beloved Major, reunited with his coach and back in the top 100 of the world rankings as he looks to lead the 11-strong South African challenge at the PGA Championship starting at the Ocean Course in Kiawah Island on Thursday.
Grace has the best history in the tournament of that record South African contingent vying for the famous Wanamaker Trophy, having finished third in 2015 and tied-fourth the following year.
Gary Player was the last South African to win the PGA Championship, way back in 1972.
The 32-year-old Grace’s career had been in the doldrums a bit and he lost his father to Covid at the beginning of the year. But Grace rebounded to win the Puerto Rico Open on the US PGA Tour and has made the cut in four of his five events since then, climbing to No 92 in the world rankings, having ended 2020 in 126th place.
He also has his coach Peter Berman with him in South Carolina, and expressed his happiness on social media that they will be able to work together for the first time since last year.
On our way to @ThePGAChampionship, thanks @Netjets for spoiling us with an upgrade. Happy to finally have my coach @Petethegolfpro here, whom I haven’t been able to work with in person since late last year.
Looking forward to this week at @KiawahIslandSC pic.twitter.com/L1K79QjXPX
— Branden Grace (@BrandenGrace) May 16, 2021
In the golf movie Tin Cup, protagonist Roy McAvoy talks of a course being like a “river full of all manner of disaster, you know, piranhas, alligators, eddies, currents” and the Ocean Course, which was also the venue for the 2012 PGA Championship, has been described as the most difficult layout in recent Major championship history. Measuring nearly 7,900 yards, it also features strong coastal winds and cruel slopes.
Hopefully the potential for trauma won’t mar the debut experience of Major golf for South Africans Garrick Higgo, in red-hot form after his two European Tour wins in the Canary Islands, and Danie van Tonder, who has been given an invite after his breakthrough European Tour victory in Kenya.
Louis Oosthuizen is the highest-ranked South African in the field at 31st in the world rankings, followed by No 41 Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Dylan Frittelli is another South African who regularly competes on the US PGA Tour and is also inside the top-100, while veteran Charl Schwartzel rose 48 places to No 109 after his tied-third finish in last weekend’s Byron Nelson Classic.
Brandon Stone has been doing well on the European Tour lately, while George Coetzee and Erik van Rooyen both enjoyed their best Major showings at the PGA Championship. Dean Burmester, who also won during the European Tour’s Canary Islands swing, is making his PGA Championship debut, having played in two US Opens previously.