Ernie Els, the popular battle horse of world golf, is leading the onslaught of the ten South African players who will try this week in Hoylake on the west coast of England to write the year’s last Major title behind their name when the prestigious British Open tournament be decided.
The 53-year-old Els is a two-time British Open champion. He won his first crown in 2002 at Muirfield in Scotland, after which he held up the prestigious Claret Jug trophy a decade later in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St Annes in Lancashire.
Although Els plays his golf in the American senior series these days, there is no substitute for his natural talent and experience; A large majority of the younger Open participants can soon learn a lot from the South African golf star.
Last weekend, Els delivered another solid performance in the series for players older than 50 when he finished third in the Kaulig Companies tournament. It was his tenth top ten performance of the season and the second time this year that he has finished among the top three in a senior Major tournament.
He said afterwards that he had been persuaded to give a good account on the Royal Liverpool course and turn back the clock to the days when he and Tiger Woods were considered the world’s best.
Els’s nine compatriots, who from Thursday are part of the total of 156 players whose sights are set on Major fame, are Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Thriston Lawrence, Ockie Strydom, Martin Rohwer, Kyle Barker and the amateur Christo Lamprecht.
Oosthuizen and Schwartzel are Major champions in their own right with the former winning the British Open title in 2010 at the home of world golf, St Andrews. The following year, Schwartzel won the coveted US Masters title on the magical Augusta course.
These two SA stars play in the controversial LIV series these days and it is difficult to determine their level of play because they are so little in action and do not play in conditions with real pressure.
The same applies to their LIV teammate Grace, who holds the record for the lowest score ever in a Major tournament. He achieved this feat in 2017 at Royal Birkdale when he filled in a dazzling score of 62 strokes on his scorecard in the third round.
Oosthuizen qualified as a former champion for this year’s Open battle, while Schwartzel and Grace had to play for their places in the last qualifying tournament. This is no small feat.
Rohwer and Barker, like Schwartzel and Grace, came out on top in the last qualifying tournament two weeks ago to book their spots in the selection field.
The 29-year-old Rohwer plays his golf at the Kloof country club and is a three-time winner in the Sunshine Series since he joined the money ranks in 2016.
Barker is 25 years old and his golf home is the beautiful Serengeti course outside Kempton Park.
He achieved his breakthrough win in the Sunshine Series in April this year when he won the Stella Artois Players Championship at Dainfern.
That Rohwer and Barker were successful in their quest to qualify for the Open is a testimony that the competition in the Sunshine Series is world-class.
After all, international stars such as Nick Faldo and John Daly – and of course South Africa’s own Ernie Els – cut their teeth in the local golf series and then performed on the world’s biggest stages.
Bezuidenhout, Lawrence and Strydom are currently three of the country’s leading players and this is not one of their first appearances in a Major. They will know that patience is the watchword in the Open and that no big mistakes can be afforded.
Hopefully the trio will be at their best this week and can dish out the kind of play that made them winners in the European series.
The British amateur champion Lamprecht is an unknown factor to most golf fans. He won the top amateur title at Hillside a month ago to qualify directly for the Open.
Lamprecht is 22 years old and a giant who stands six feet eight inches in his socks. He has been studying at Georgia Tech in America since 2021 after matriculating at Outeniqua High School in George.
Lamprecht is the third South African player in the last six years to win the British amateur title. Els’ nephew Jovan Rebula managed it in 2018, with Aldrich Potgieter crowned champion in 2022.
Globally, the Open is golf’s great showcase. The ten South African stars who were therefore able to secure their places in this selection battle are already winners for whom world fame is within reach when the tournament begins on Thursday.