The past, present and the future: Branden's Rise to Grace

10/8/2012 4:28:14 PM
Branden Grace taking in a special moment on Sunday at St Andrews  (Getty Images)
Branden Grace taking in a special moment on Sunday at St Andrews (Getty Images)

The scene was one etched strangely in antiquity, in history.

A sinking, fiery orb flooding the famous 18th hole of St Andrews’ Old Course in golden light, a scene set in sepia.

But at the centre of this glorious sketch in chiaroscuro, with long autumnal shadows casting fingers of dark across the Home of Golf’s cherished turf, was a man not of the past but of the golfing present and future.

Branden Grace, arms aloft, had just holed the birdie putt that rubber-stamped an incredible fourth European Tour title in 2012 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, just ten months after gaining his card at the Qualifying School in Spain.

A march of bagpipers strode up the fairway as the 24 year old South African exited up-stage to take care of recording formalities, and one could not help but wonder the thoughts that must have been passing through the Pretorian’s head at that point; not only the biggest victory of his flourishing career concluded, but a childhood fantasy complete.

“It was one of those things you look forward to your whole life as a golfer,” reflected an almost dumbfounded Grace in the aftermath of the traditional winner’s photographs centred on the iconic Swilcan Burn Bridge.
 
“I think any golfer out there would dream of winning at St Andrews. When you dream of turning professional, you are dreaming and striving to win a tournament of this calibre, and to win it on this place, the Home of Golf, was amazing.  It was more than just a couple of dreams coming true when I lifted the trophy on that bridge.”

Grace revealed that just hours before teeing off in the final round of the championship he had sourced internet pictures of his compatriot Louis Oosthuizen’s Open Championship victory at St Andrews in 2010, and paid testament to the integral role his countryman and friend had played in his approach to last week’s tournament.

“Louis invited me to stay with him and his family this week, so that's been great,” said Grace, who like Oosthuizen was supported by the Ernie Els Foundation in South Africa throughout his youth. 

“We played here in a practice round on Wednesday and he helped me a lot with lines off tees.  I've not played here a lot of times and, for me, I'll always tend to favour the right side of a golf course which you can't do here.

“But I think what really helped was staying with the family, with Louis and them. Every night we had dinner together, we went to functions together and playing with the kids really helped me relax and get ready for it. 

“This morning [Sunday], waking up with his little girls shouting and laughing, I thought, ‘It's been the perfect way to relax me for what is to come today’.”

Grace’s rise and rise has been nothing short of meteoric.

Exactly one year prior to last week’s Dunhill Links, Grace was ranked 260th in the Official World Golf Ranking, having just missed three cuts on the Challenge Tour in succession. He would go on to miss out on automatic promotion to the top tier of European golf by four places, with season earnings of €60,242.

Fast forward 12 months, a card secured via an 11th place finish in the Final Qualifying Stage at PGA Catalunya near Girona last December, Grace has amassed an astonishing four European Tour titles (and five worldwide), has ascended to World Number 37 in the rankings, and – as of this week – has accrued winnings of €2,028,216 so far in 2012.

Grace could not be more humble with his new-found stardom, though; he is likeable, often amusing and wholly down to earth. Speaking at the trophy presentation he held paper notes but spoke thoughtfully with only the odd cursory glance down.

“I've been working hard,” he admitted later. “Getting my card at Tour School and that first win just did me the world's best.  I think the confidence that I got after that just lifted me up sky high and everything has just been going my way.”

Self-effacing too, then, but without need; the uncovering and realisation of a Fancourt-sculpted natural talent has been mesmerising.

From the Joburg Open, to the Volvo Golf Champions, to the Volvo China Open and now a wire-to-wire masterclass at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

In a year of such sporting memories, of Olympics and Ryder Cups, Grace’s remarkable story still stands tall as one of the most extraordinary golfing eruptions in recent recollection.

The sun replaced by stars, the Old Course in darkness, with just yellow lights dotting the façade of the famous old golfing town, thoughts not of the past but of the future pervaded the consciousness in the wake of the young South African’s most recent triumph in Scotland.

If these last ten months prove only to be the first scene in the opening act of Branden Grace’s career then roll on the rest of the production; it is set to be a modern classic.