In this week’s player blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Dean Burmester reflects on how a car crash changed his perspective, his biggest motivations, and how the charity Birdies4Rhinos started
Now that we’re nearing the end of the season, the first thing that comes to mine when I reflect on this year is probably that I’m happy to be alive. The experience in Dubai at the start of the year, the car accident my family and I were in, was hectic. It put a lot of things in perspective for me. I’d missed the cut at the SA Open and in Abu Dhabi and I was in such a dark place mentally on the golf course after 2019, and then it happened on Wednesday evening in Dubai. Afterwards, I ended up performing well on a golf course that didn’t necessarily suit me, because I was just playing the ball and not the course.
It showed me that maybe I’m a little bit hard on myself, I don’t really maximise my potential, and I lose my way a bit. It sounds wrong, but it almost felt like it was meant to happen in a way, because I don’t think I could have timed the change I had in mentality any better. I realised that there’s so much more to life than golf: There’s a whole world out there and anything can happen at any minute, so you might as well enjoy it, enjoy this beautiful world we have that we see through our job. Timing is everything in life, and it certainly is in golf too. Just being able to step back and think about that accident every now and again, that I might not be here, helps me remember that, and I was happy to take a new perspective from it.
That perspective really helped going into lockdown. The first week or ten days I was almost frustrated because I was just starting to play well and then we were questioning when we were going to play again, but as time went on I realised it was a massive blessing. I was able to spend five and a half months with my wife and son, which we’ll never get to do again in professional golf, so we really made the most of it.
My family are a big motivation for me. I phoned my son the other day and he said: ‘Daddy I saw you made a black number today on the scorecard, only red numbers tomorrow’. It just helps to have that at home.
I was lucky with my upbringing in Zimbabwe too. I have a very competitive family. My mum won a lot of tournaments around the world as an amateur golfer, my dad was a professional cricketer with a scratch handicap, and my brother was professional for a while and still has a plus handicap. It means the four of us still have a very competitive four ball every year around Christmas, but they also taught me to love the game. Something my father and grandfather instilled in me at a very young age was to enjoy it. I was really hard on myself as a junior golfer, throwing clubs and doing really bad things out there and they said if you’re not going to enjoy it we’re not going to bring you, you need to learn to enjoy it, and it was a really good life lesson.
I wouldn’t be where I am without any of them, or my friends or sponsors. The one thing that’s always stuck with me is something I was told when Investec Bank sponsored me when I first turned professional. At the time I was working as a waiter and paying my way to get to tournaments – with a little help from my parents – just to try and pre-qualify to get in. He said: ‘I’m going to sponsor you, I think you’re going to be something special, but you never forget where you come from’. It’s always stuck with me, and I always try and stay as grounded as I can, remember what I’ve done to get here and where I came from, and even when things aren’t going well, enjoy the privilege of the pressure.
It’s the best leveller in the world, the game of golf. It’s kind of like life; just when you think you’re at the top it can knock you out from underneath, and it’s a beautiful game in that way. When I came back after the break I had a little bit of nerves at Close House and Forest of Arden as I settled in to my swing again, but I started to play well at Hanbury Manor, and again at Celtic Manor. I was leading the putting stats, but I’ve always had waves of anxiousness with my putter, and they came back in a big way in Scotland. I missed a one-foot putt all of a sudden, because I was in a Rolex Series event and I’d been playing well but hadn’t converted it into a win or top tens, I was putting pressure on that part of my game. That created that anxiousness, and then I missed another one, and then I kept telling myself don’t miss another one. It got so bad over a couple of weeks and I was getting so nervous over six-foot putts that I spoke to my caddie Jason about what we could do. We tried to change putter but it didn’t feel comfortable, so I went back to my old putter and changed my grip, just to feel something different. I got on to the first hole and rolled in a six-footer and that was the end of that, my confidence was back. It’s the same thing as momentum leading to good form or bad form quickly putting you in a dark place. It’s quite amazing, it’s what’s beautiful about the game.
It’s been a hectic whirlwind of a year, but in the end I’ve played pretty good golf. I’m in the top 60 now and hopefully I can get to Dubai. I find it motivating to set a yearly or long term goal, and making it to the DP World Tour Championship was a goal of mine because 2019 wasn’t a good year for me, so if I can get there this will have been. I also love that golf course. I’ve played twice and finished fourth both times, and it’s one of the biggest events I feel like I could win anytime I show up. I obviously want to win another tournament on the European Tour, but I’m taking one small mini goal at a time hopefully it ends up with me playing in Dubai at the end of this season.
Majors massively motivate me too, and I’ve said to myself I won’t go to Augusta and watch until I make it there. I think everyone who plays golf wants to not only play in a Major but compete, or give yourself a chance to win. I played in my first U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, which was absolutely brutal, but I birdied the 36th hole to make it on the number so I was really proud of the way I stuck it out. The second year I won the qualifier to get into Pebble Beach, and I was just awestruck. I was almost not too concerned about my ball because it was such a great week, and even though I missed the cut I probably learned more there than I did making the cut at Shinnecock. I went out on Saturday and Sunday and watched, and it was cool having played and then watching how the top guys are doing it to win a Major. I watched Gary Woodland quite a lot, and I learnt a lot about demeanour and how you should go about your business.
I think learning from other guys is a cool part of the game, and I love watching swings and demeanour. I’m just a lover of golf. I think the best example of that was when I was playing with Brandon Stone when he shot 60 to win the Scottish Open, and I was just so delighted for him. I was playing to try and get an Open spot, but I just enjoyed that day so much because I felt like it was going to be one of the coolest things to watch in my career. He was so calm, and when he hit that long eagle putt on 16 I was fist pumping because I was so excited.
And now, being able to play golf back in South Africa again and compete on home soil is amazing. Obviously the weather is really good, and the Alfred Dunhill Championship is my favourite tournament of the year, so it’s kind of like a dream come true given that we weren’t sure if we’d be playing here at all until recently. Gary Player has done an amazing job on the course, but outside of that Mr Rupert has created a world class facility. It has one of the best par threes, probably the best range in the world, and it’s situated in an amazing place. You stand on certain tee boxes and there’s elephants, rhinos and buffalos. Even when I play badly I always stay for the week and do some finishing afterwards, watch golf and see animals. It just offers so much variety for players, whatever they like. I don’t think there’s a tournament that personifies Africa more.
The idea for our charity Birdies4Rhinos was actually born at this tournament five years ago. On Tuesday evening Justin Walters had gone into the park for a long drive with his family and didn’t see one rhino and realised he didn’t want his kids to grow up not knowing what a rhino is. The next morning he spoke to our manager, and he then came up to me in the player’s lounge and said ‘listen Burmy I’ve got this idea, are you on board?’ and I said ‘dude, let’s do it’. It’s snowballed into this amazing project we have now; we work with great sculptors who make sculptures for our auction, and we’ve now got a total of 18 golfers. We’re all passionate about it, and we all just donate what we can. A big moment was when Justin approached Justin Rose in Ireland, and he said ‘I know you were born here, I know your mum is South African, you’ve got to be passionate about it’, and he jumped on board, which helped raise our profile a lot.
We’ve also joined Connect Conservation, who save wildlife all over the world, and we’re involved in a project that helps protect Rhino’s in Kruger National Park using a lot of technology. In the last five years they’ve only lost one Rhino in the whole project, which is amazing. They’ve really taken us to a new level the last two years, and Dimension Data and Doc Watson need a lot of credit for that. We’ve had the opportunity to go there and experience the whole process, and its humbling to know that the better we play the more difference we make, so it’s a cool motivation. We all just want to save these beautiful animals, and hopefully one day we can get the poaching down to nothing.
Find out more: @Birdies4Rhinos
"With every birdie he made he could make a difference". A simple idea that turned into a life saving initiative.🦏 Show your support towards @Birdies4Rhinos and #ConnectedConservation by clicking here https://t.co/oU501ttNQc🐦#DDProAm #25years #MomentstoMemories pic.twitter.com/ebKkCZcpwh— DidataMEA (@DiDataMEA) February 14, 2020