Why is South African golf so white?

2013-01-22 10:41

On face value South African golf is a real success story. We lie 4th on the all time list of major championship winners with a healthy 22 titles in the bag. That's 7 majors ahead of sporting superpower Australia. We've also notched up a record 12 World Match Play Championship titles. Fairly decent I would say.The one thing that stands out in golf is that the only black champion we've had is the Black Knight himself!

With all the talk about our cricket team not being 'black' enough, one has to ask where are the black South African golfers hiding? The Sunshine Tour Order of Merit is whiter than your last Omo wash.

Golf is an individual sport so obviously sporting quotas in terms of team selections just don't cut it. That makes it pretty hard for meddling politicians to stick there fingers where they are not supposed to. In golf if you're a good enough amateur player, you turn professional and try your hand at making a living. Sounds simple really except that for every successful professional there is a scrap heap of failed ones. You see to 'make' it in golf you don't just have to be an excellent golfer you have to be a GREAT golfer.

So why after almost 20 years of democratic freedom is the sight of a black professional golfer from South Africa as rare as Cyril Ramaphosa's single malt? We are blessed with a country with superb weather, fantastic golf courses and of course a host of golfing role models like Gary Player, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuisen to name a few.

I would say there can only be one reason for this. Someone or something is not doing their job. What is happening to development in golf? You don't hear SASCOC and likes complaining about the lack of black when it comes to golf. Why not? The reason is that because if you start bitching about it, you may just have to do something about it and put some money into it! Too much like hard work I guess resulting in a much leaner gravy train!

James Kamte is our best black golfer currently and arguably the 2nd best black golfer in the world. He has won 5 tournaments in 10 years on the tour. Kamte is currently not ranked in the top 20 golfers from South Africa and came 34th on the Sunshine tour order of merit in 2012. Hardly shooting the lights out. Off the course, James hasn't done too well either and perhaps this has contributed to a career tainted by underachievement when you consider his talent.

The rather bizarre absence of black professional golfers is not a uniquely South African phenomenon. Countries like the United States and United Kingdom regularly produce black athletes in a host of other sporting disciplines. Bar Tiger Woods, what players of colour produced by these traditional golfing powerhouses have you seen playing on the US PGA or European tours? A mystery.

Wouldn't it be fantastic if South African golf started to unearth young talented black golfers. There is no doubt it is a relatively untapped pool of talent. The SA Golf Development Board (funded primarily by Johan Rupert) has been active in golf development since 1999. They're doing some great work in development but to date they've produced only 6 players with Sunshine Tour cards.

Two of the more exciting black prospects that are emerging according to Golf Digest Assistant Editor Barry Havenga are Musi Nethunzwi and Sipho Bujela. Interestingly both players have been nurtured at the Gary Player School of Champions. They recently shed their amateur status and will compete on the Sunshine Tour in 2013. Another to keep an eye on would be Makgetha Mazibuko who topped the Vusi Ngubeni Qualifying School by 10 shots in January. He's only 25 and was a graduate of the Ernie Els Foundation.

Where does government fit in or is golf development something private money should be funding?

There are many other talented young black golfers plying their trade round the country. Let's just hope whatever is causing the bottleneck in taking this success onto the pro tours around the world is identified and removed. What a pleasure it would be for Gary Player to hang up the phrase 'We need a black champion' for good.

Check out my blog at sportbilly.co.za

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