Branden's rise to Grace
South Africa has a good record of producing brilliantly talented golfers; the legendary Gary Player, Retief Goosen and the “Big Easy”, Ernie Els, to name just three.
Louis Oostshuizen and Charl Schwartzel further boosted their country’s reputation by winning the British Open Championship and the Masters respectively, in 2010 and 2011.
However, just as Oosthuizen and Schwartzel have started flexing their muscles as South Africa’s big two, rookie Branden Grace has burst into the spotlight with two wins inside a week on the European Tour.
The 23-year-old from Pretoria only turned professional in 2007 and primarily played his golf on South Africa’s “Sunshine Tour” until he earned his card for the 2012 European Tour season.
Grace’s debut season on the European Tour started off in comfortable surroundings, with the Africa Open staged in Port Alfred, South Africa.
The Africa Open was won by Grace’s compatriot Oosthuizen but the following event would prove significant.
That was the Joburg Open, held at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
An event previously won two years in a row by Masters champion Schwartzel, the Joburg Open saw Grace announce himself as the new kid on the block by beating England’s Jamie Elson by a single stroke for his maiden tour win.
Far from satisfied with his first win on the prestigious tour, Grace then made his way to his home town – George, on South Africa’s Garden Route, for the Volvo Golf Champions event. Held at Fancourt links – near Oosthuizen’s home town of Mossel Bay – this was where Grace showed the world that he means business.
On the Gary Player designed course, a strong field that included Europe’s 2012 Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal played some amazing golf over the four days, negotiating the lethal, sun-hardened greens in admirable fashion. Nonetheless it was Grace as the apprentice who prevailed, beating masters Goosen and Els in a play-off to record his second tour win in eight days.
After sealing the win with a two-putt birdie at the first extra hole, Grace beamed; “I’m really ecstatic. It’s a dream come true to win such a big event – pretty much the best tournament I’ve played in so far.”
Grace’s two wins have grabbed the attention of the golfing world. The incredible aspect of his achievements is that the two triumphs come on the back of 49 consecutive winless outings.
January 2012 has been a fantastic month for Grace. Not only has he emerged as an exciting player on the European Tour, he has also seen his world ranking change dramatically. Having started the year in 258th position, the man from Pretoria now finds himself in a healthy 92nd place after jumping 166 places in just a month.
Not content with his considerable progress, Grace said, “Getting into the top 50…is every player's goal. To get into a major would be an unbelievable year. If I could achieve that to get into the Masters, it would just be a highlight – indescribable.”
His tour wins also see him leading the coveted ‘Race to Dubai’- where the winner at the end of the season pockets $1.5 million (£963,206) and a 10-year guarantee from the European Tour.
Now everybody in the world of golf knows the name Branden Grace and with his seemingly unquenchable thirst for improvement, it appears that the sky is the limit for the young South African. Next up on the European Tour, is the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship where all eyes will be on Grace and whether he can make it a hat-trick of tour wins.