South Africa’s Branden Grace can expect a warm welcome from the home crowds when he tees it up alongside European Ryder Cup star Martin Kaymer in the 102nd South African Open Championship at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate from 15-18 November.
Over the last 10 months, Grace has captured the imagination of world golf during the course of a season which has seen him rise from outside the top 300 to inside the world’s top 40.
Last Sunday, the 24 year old from Pretoria showed the class that had already brought him three European Tour titles in 2012 by claiming his fifth win this season with a two-shot victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in St Andrews.
Grace immediately set his sights on the South African Open, hoping to add the prestigious title of the world’s second oldest Open Championship to his impressive haul of silverware this year.
“Over the last couple of years I’ve felt that I’ve played good golf, but never really got the best out of it; I never really got where I wanted to be,” he said.
“Obviously this year has been a dream year so far, and going back home, I hope I get rewarded for what I’ve done this year and that people will come out in support. It’s going to feel awesome to tee it up in the SA Open.”
Grace’s dream season began with back-to-back European Tour victories at the Joburg Open and Volvo Golf Champions in January. In April, he won the Volvo China Open and in September captured the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final on the Sunshine Tour in a come-from-behind performance at the Fancourt Links.
Grace again showed his class when he began the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with a European Tour record-equalling round of 60 at Kingsbarns. Over the next three rounds, he never relinquished his lead and finished the week with a tournament record-equalling 22 under par aggregate winning total, collecting a first prize of €617,284.
Like Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen, Grace is a product of the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation.
Four-time Major winner Els got his first look at the youngster’s talent when Grace won the Freddy Tait Trophy as the leading amateur in the 2007 South African Open, and the reigning Open Champion has tipped Grace to become another South African Major winner.
“Branden is one heck of a player,” Els told reporters in St Andrews. “He could win an Open Championship, he’s that good.”
Grace also earned the praise of three-time Major winner, Padraig Harrington. “There’s probably nobody in professional golf at the moment who I’d like to play with more, just to see his game and what makes him tick,” Harrington said.
SA Open tournament chairman Khaya Ngqula is delighted to confirm Grace’s entry.
“Branden has no doubt established himself as a quality player this year, and with his exemption secured on The European Tour for a couple of years and having climbed into the top 40 of the World Ranking, he should get into the four Majors,” said Ngqula.
“Having risen to third in the Race to Dubai, Branden might even deny World Number One Rory McIlroy The Race to Dubai title.
“Every South African golfer dreams of lifting the SA Open title, and Branden’s participation underlines his desire to cap his exceptional season by winning his National Open and adding his name to the illustrious list of previous winners, which include Major Champions Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman and Ernie Els.”