South Africans looking for glory at Augusta

Louis Oosthuizen hits off the second tee during first round play of the 2018 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Picture: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Louis Oosthuizen hits off the second tee during first round play of the 2018 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Picture: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

SA is fielding two former champs, two rookies and its best chances in Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace.

The Masters is the one tournament most golfers want to win, and South Africans are no exception.

It is the only one of the four Majors that is played at the same course every year – the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia in the US – and is always held over the second weekend in April.

This year, six South Africans will compete in the prestigious tournament, which starts on Thursday.

As an invitee competition, in theory it is up to the club to send invitations to the players they want to participate. In practice, however, there is a set of criteria that the club follows in extending an invitation.

Top of the list are all previous Masters champions. Quite a few of them – like Gary Player – luckily decline the invitation to play. Many of them, however, turn up for the tournament and play in the par-three competition that is held the day before the actual start.

Simply by arriving in Augusta, each former winner receives $10 000 (R141 500), irrespective of whether they play or not.

Player has long since given up teeing off on Thursday, although, as an honorary starter, he does actually tee off, but plays no further part. South Africa’s two other champions, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel, do compete for the green jacket, which the Masters winner is traditionally given.

Since winning (Immelman in 2008, Schwartzel in 2011), both players have struggled around the course. Immelman missed the cut for the past five years. Schwartzel had a third-place finish in 2017, but has also failed to make it into the weekend in three of the past five years.

South Africa is also providing two of the rookies at this year’s Masters.

They are Justin Harding, who qualified by virtue of being in the top 50 of the world golf ranking – achieved after some good results, including winning the Qatar Masters earlier this year – and Jovan Rebula.

The 21-year-old Rebula, who qualified by winning the 2018 British Amateur Championship, can expect some help in the run-up to the tournament from his uncle, four-time Major winner Ernie Els.

Rebula, who became the first South African to win the British Amateur since Bobby Cole in 1966, said that Els had given him plenty of encouragement: “We have a very tight relationship. He’s always motivating me. He’s awesome, just a great human being.”

He will go into the tournament after winning the Georgia Cup, which sees the winners of the US and British Amateur championships go head-to-head.

Rebula beat Viktor Hovland one-up at the end of last month and will take some confidence from looking at previous winners of the tournament. The 1999 winner was none other than Sergio Garcia, who won his first green jacket in 2017.

A glance at The Masters

South Africa’s best chances of success, however, lie with Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, both of whom have shown that they can play the course and have done well in tournaments going into the Masters.

Oosthuizen advanced to the quarterfinals of the WGC-Match Play Championship last weekend, while Grace knocked out world number one Dustin Johnson in the group stages of the same competition.

Irrespective of that defeat, Johnson will be among the favourites for the Masters, with some of the familiar names of top-class golf like Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Garcia and Ricky Fowler, who was defeated at the final hole by Patrick Reed last year, also challenging.

Reed, who has not won on the PGA Tour since his triumph at the Masters, said he was looking forward to competing again.

“It’s been unbelievable. To be able to slip on the green jacket and have it be my first Major – it’s always been a dream of mine, and a dream of every golfer. I can’t wait to get back on the property and walk into the champions locker room and just see all the names and the history.

“The biggest thing is just going in with the same mind-set I had last year and really taking it all in my stride. Having all the extra activities this year, all the extra things going on, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Honestly, I can’t wait for the week to start and to be able to experience all of it. And to be on the first tee as defending champion is going to be awesome,” he said.

Masters Tournament chairperson Fred Ridley said he was looking forward to the start.

“Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts established the Masters as a global sporting event. We look forward to hosting all of our Masters competitors in April,” he said.

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