As Branden Grace handed the crystal trophy back to Nedbank Golf Challenge host Gary Player in a televised ceremony on Tuesday, he whispered to Player, “Hopefully we can keep it in South Africa again this week”.
In the 37 previous editions of “Africa’s Major”, Southern African golfers have won on 14 occasions. But Grace’s victory last year ended a gap of 10 years between his triumph and that of the last South African winner before him, namely Trevor Immelman in 2007.
Having done so once already, Grace would be the obvious choice to lead the 11 South Africans in keeping the trophy on home soil at the Gary Player Country Club this week.
“I’m super excited to be back here. This is a tough week defending. It’s never easy, but I’ve done it before so hopefully I can do it again,” said Grace.
In describing what it felt like to win “Africa’s Major” in 2017, Grace served up even more inspiration for his countrymen.
“Winning South Africa’s biggest event was great. And winning a tournament you grew up watching, and you see some legendary names on the trophy as well – it’s great.”
Charl Schwartzel, having finished second here to Martin Kaymer in 2012, certainly appreciates what it would mean for him to win this week.
“Obviously as a South African this tournament is really close to us. It’s the first tournament that I came to watch live and watch my heroes play. It’s always really good to be back here.”
And fellow South African Erik van Rooyen is fulfilling a childhood dream as he makes his debut in this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player.
“It’s a tournament I’ve always wanted to play as a kid and I came here plenty of times with the family to watch. It’s a privilege to be here. The golf course is a ball-striker's paradise, really. You have long holes and small greens. And I feel like my game is really right on the verge.”