Houghton, just a few miles from the fashionable Sandton district of Johannesburg, is just one of several fine clubs which have played a vital part in South African golf history over the years. They still talk there of the great golfing battles of the past played out in beautiful surroundings on a course which has the well manicured look of a botanical garden thanks, it must be said, to the untiring dedication of club member Barbey Jacobson. He supervised, and indeed paid for, many of the hundreds of trees and bushes that help give the Club its unique character. Houghton is very special. The members respect the game and appreciate great golf at the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
The pre-tournament disappointment felt at the non-appearance of local favourite and diligent Sunshine Tour supporter Ernie Els, on duty in America, was forgotten by the end of a week that saw two 20 year olds, England’s Justin Rose and Australian Adam Scott both sure to play an important part in international golf over the next two decades, battling it out for the title with Nick Faldo, the 43 year old six times Major winner, and gutsy 30 year old Scot Dean Robertson.
In the end Scott, son of a Queensland professional and coached by him until he met Tiger Woods’s guru Butch Harmon while studying at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, came back after losing a four stroke advantage on the final day to edge out Rose for the title with a deft pitch and a three foot putt at the last.
After his difficult baptism in the professional ranks where he missed his first 21 halfway cuts following his tied fourth finish as an amateur in the 1998 Open Championship, Rose’s Houghton performance was a welcome relief. Few could have handled the early disappointments as gracefully and intelligently. So coping with the disappointment of losing at Houghton when in contention for the first time, was relatively easy.
Yet this was Scott’s week. He secured his first victory in only his ninth start as a professional on The European Tour. He had played with distinction as an amateur in some early Tour events in 2000, including third place in the Benson and Hedges International Open at The De Vere Belfry, so his quick success was hardly unexpected. In his latter days as an amateur he had been rated World Number Two and had upstaged the professionals by firing a course record 63 in the Greg Norman Holden International when fans first noticed how similar his style was to that of Woods - coach Harmon’s most high profile pupil.
The swings of the two players are almost identical and it was clear again at Houghton that Scott has the temperament to succeed on the multi-national European Tour and also on the world stage. In Johannesburg, however, Scott re-iterated his well-proven route. Many of today’s international stars, including Greg Norman, Nick Price, Vijay Singh and the “Big Easy” Els to name just four, have learned to play a variety of shots on all kinds of grasses and in all weathers in Europe before moving on to become winners of Major Championships.
Last summer Scott had taken the opportunity to mention to Tiger, when they were practising together at Las Vegas, that he was considering turning professional rather earlier than planned. His decision to do so was influenced by the World Number One’s confidence boosting reply: “Go on, go out there, play hard and let them have it.”
He did just that at Houghton, helped by a word of advice he received from Harmon on the phone on Saturday night. Scott had led before going into the final round and failed to win so this time Harmon advised him to forget about winning. “Just go out and play golf,” said Butch and he did until the last hour and a half when in danger of losing his competitive instincts took over. Three birdies in the last five holes enabled him to handle the spirited challenge of Rose.
What was so commendable throughout a week mercifully free from any serious weather disruptions, was the spirit in which the two young men conducted themselves throughout - an indication that the future well being of the game is in good hands. In the end Scott summed up his feelings as succinctly as you might expect of someone who has studied communications. “I’ve experienced the taste of winning now and want it even more,” he said.
On the evidence of another highly memorable Alfred Dunhill Championship Adam Scott should have little trouble in filling up the shelves of his trophy cabinet.Renton Laidlaw
This article has been reproduced from The 14th Edition of The European Tour Yearbook which can be purchased at a special price direct via the Order Form.