Clem Sunter

The Maccauvlei Champion

2011-04-13 12:56

I used to take the old road from Johannesburg to Vereeniging in the 1970s; drive through the centre of town; take a left towards the end of the main street; go over the Vaal bridge and turn right into one of the best golf courses in South Africa – Maccauvlei. My golfing partners worked at Anglo’s Coronation Colliery up the road.

The toughest hole on the course for me was the one with a huge bunker in the middle of the fairway that you had to hit an iron shot over to get to an unseen green. The other memory was the 19th hole, a bar which was always full of laughter and stories of what might have been on the course a few hours earlier.

So it is fitting that the new US Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel, hails from this club. I stayed up till the early hours of Monday morning watching the drama unfold. Poor old Charl seldom got a mention until his birdies on the final four holes because the story was all about whether Tiger Woods was going to make a sensational comeback; and then whether either Adam Scott or Jason Day was going to be the first Australian to win the tournament.

Charl won 50 years to the day after Gary Player became the first foreigner to be a Masters champion. Trevor Immelman led wire to wire and triumphed in 2008. Unlike Australia with zero wins, South Africa has five – Gary Player with three plus Trevor and Charl with one apiece. Take that!

Charl wasn’t even born when I started playing at Maccauvlei so he has a good chance, at the age of 26, of winning some more Majors and maybe donning the green jacket at Augusta a few more times as well. Right now South Africa has two of the four major champions – Louis Oosthuizen at last year’s British Open and Charl. Interestingly, none of the four at the moment are American. I wonder how often that has happened in the last 50 years. Does it signal a more open, competitive world?

Spare a thought for poor Rory McIlroy who at 21 looked to be the favourite on the last day and then self-destructed on the second nine. I can empathise with him. As a single handicap golfer for most of my life, I had the chance in the 1980s of shooting a flat round at Royal Johannesburg’s West Course. Standing on the 18th tee which was a relatively easy par 5, I just needed a par. Like Rory, I hooked the drive dreadfully. I tried to recover but ended up with a bogey. That was it. The moment of glory was gone and will never reappear for me. At least, Rory will have other chances; and I have two holes-in-one as partial compensation for all the rounds I’ve played.

What is the takeaway from Charl’s victory? It is contained in a famous quote by Gary Player: “The more I practise, the luckier I get.” Charl was extremely lucky at the first and the third holes of the final round when he holed out spectacularly from off the green. The difference between winning and losing is that winners build on lucky breaks and are crowned champions. Losers fritter their good fortune away. That applies to any career in business, politics or sport.

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