Carnoustie – South Africa’s summer takeover of golf in Scotland could yet yield the most prized trophy of them all – The Claret Jug.
In the last four weeks, South Africans have won the British Amateur Championship, the Scottish Open on the European Tour, and most recently the Junior Open Championship – all in Scotland.
Celebrating a Open Championship champion this week would cap a golden month, and two of the country’s more unheralded players are leading the charge.
For about an hour on Friday under the glorious late-afternoon sun on the Carnoustie links, Zander Lombard’s name was atop the yellow leaderboards dotted around the course. The same Lombard who missed the cut in 11 of his last 13 starts and is ranked No 444 in the world.
“It’s an amazing experience being up in the fight, in the thick of things,” said Lombard, who bogeyed No 16 and 17 to post an even-par 71 and be two shots off leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner.
Also tied for sixth on four-under 138 after a 71 in the bsecond round was Erik Van Rooyen, who briefly held the lead on the opening day.
The Johannesburg-born Van Rooyen is making his first appearance in a Open Championship and, like Lombard, doesn’t not have a victory on a senior tour.
“It’s time for the next generation of (South African) guys to step up,” said Van Rooyen.
Two strokes further back was another South African, Brandon Stone, who won the Scottish Open last week after a 10-under 60 in the final round. He came within inches of becoming the first player to shoot 59 in the 46-year history of the European Tour.
Of the 12 South African players to tee up at Carnoustie, five have made the weekend: Louis Oosthuizen (70), the 2010 champion at St. Andrews, and Shaun Norris (68) are tied for 29th at even par.
“It’s something about South Africans liking links golf,” said Oosthuizen, the most renowned member of the quintet. “And that’s a strange thing because there’s not a lot of links golf out in SA.”
Lombard had another theory about what he described as “a South African summer in Scotland.”
“We feed off each other’s confidence,” Lombard said. “Yeah, we motivate each other to play better golf.”
It started in late June when Jovan Rebula, the nephew of South African golfing great Ernie Els, won the British Amateur Championship at Royal Aberdeen.
After Stone’s memorable triumph at Gullane, Martin Vorster this week became the first South African to win the Junior Open Championship, over the Eden course at St. Andrews. The 16-year-old Vorster is a member of the Louis Oosthuizen Academy that started in 2009.
“We’re seeing a number of young players coming through now that are looking to be world class,” Stone said. “And I look forward to seeing them on tour. In five, 10 years, there could be 20, 30 South Africans on tour. That would be a really special thing.”
But that’s the future.
This weekend, it’s about the Open Championship being won by a South African for the 11th time, 50 years after Gary Player – the greatest South African golfer of all – won at Carnoustie.