South African Champion Golfers at The Open
No southern hemisphere country has had more success at The Open over the years than South Africa, which has produced the Champion Golfer on ten occasions.
Four men have shared those victories between them, including two-time winner Ernie Els and the latest player from the republic to join the prestigious club - Louis Oosthuizen.
They followed in the footsteps of two of the country’s greatest ever exports in the form of four-time Champion Golfer Bobby Locke and three-time winner Gary Player.
And with both Els and Oosthuizen celebrating their birthdays this week, it seems like an opportune time to look back at the impact South Africa has had on The Open.
Outsider owns Old Course
Few expected the name of Louis Oosthuizen to be riding high at the top of the leaderboard come the conclusion of The Open at the Old Course in St Andrews in 2010.
Oosthuizen was ranked 54th in the world and was a 200/1 long shot to lift the Claret Jug at the start of the week, having only made one cut in eight Major Championship appearances.
The Mossel Bay native, who had one European Tour title to his name, got off to a strong start as he opened up with a 65 before firing a 67 on Friday to move into the lead.
His two-day total of 132 tied the record for the lowest 36-hole score in an Open Championship at St Andrews as he established an advantage he would never relinquish.
Oosthuizen was four shots clear of Paul Casey going into the final round and ultimately won by seven, with his 272 total at the Old Course only bettered by Tiger Woods since 1913.
His victory was made even more special by the fact that follow South African Ernie Els supported his early career financially for three years through his foundation, which is sponsored by The R&A.
The ‘Big Easy’ does it
Ernie Els became the third South African to be crowned Champion Golfer when he held his nerve to come out on top in a four-way play-off at The 131st Open at Muirfield in 2002.
Already a two-time Major winner, Els was arguably at the peak of his powers going into the Championship and was tied for the lead after shooting 70 and 66 in his first two rounds.
A stormy afternoon on Saturday saw a number of contenders fall away, including Woods, whose bid for a Grand Slam came to a shuddering halt in the wind and the rain.
Despite setting out in the worst of the weather, Els was unflappable and finished with a 72 to take a two-stroke lead over Denmark’s Søren Hansen into the final round.
But a double bogey on the 16th saw Els end up in a play-off with Stuart Appleby, Steve Elkington and Thomas Levet before he prevailed on the fifth extra hole to claim the Claret Jug.
He would have to wait another ten years before reclaiming the famous trophy, after benefiting from Adam Scott’s collapse to be become Champion Golfer at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
The legend of the Black Knight
As one of the most successful golfers in the history of the sport, Gary Player contributed three of South Africa’s ten Claret Jug's during a remarkable career.
The nine-time Major champion also holds the honour of being the only player in the 20th century to win The Open in three different decades, claiming the top prize in 1959, 1968 and 1974.
He was crowned Champion Golfer of the Year for the first time as a 23-year-old at Muirfield, winning by two shots from Fred Bullock despite taking a double-bogey on the 18th hole.
A second Open title followed almost a decade later at Carnoustie, with Player hitting one of the greatest shots of his career as he won by two strokes from Jack Nicklaus and Bob Charles.
Player completed the hat-trick at Royal Lytham & St Annes – his eighth Major overall – as he became only the fourth player to win the Masters and The Open in the same year.
The Johannesburg native, one of only five men to have won the career Grand Slam, went on to compete in a record 46 Open Championships – making his final appearance in 2001.
First South African superstar
No list of all-time South African greats would be complete without the name of Arthur D’Arcy Locke – given the moniker ‘Bobby’ because of his father’s admiration for Bobby Jones.
He won his first of four Open Championships at Royal St George’s in 1949, beating Harry Bradshaw in a 36-hole play-off to become the first non-European or American to lift the Claret Jug.
Locke then defended his crown at Royal Troon a year later – the first Champion Golfer to win back-to-back Open titles since Walter Hagen in 1929 – by setting a new record score of 279.
His third win came in 1952 at Royal Lytham & St Annes, but only after he managed to rescue his clubs from the boot of his car in a locked garage in time to tee off for his third round.
The South African missed the cut at Hoylake the year before his fourth and final Open victory, at St Andrews in 1957, where bounced back in style to beat Peter Thomson by three shots.
Thomson had won the previous three Open Championships, but Locke held off his great Australian rival to break his streak and regain the title of Champion Golfer once again.
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