South African triumphs at the SA Open

2018 SA Open winner Louis Oosthuizen drove back to the fairway on Randpark Golf Club’s Firethorn course pending Round 4 play. All images JACOB Mawela.

Becoming the last man standing by carding a 6-shot victory, the 36-year old Mossel Bay-born golfer made it a case of happy hunting grounds of sorts by returning to a club where 22 years back in 1996, his father, Piet and that of fellow Major winner, Charl Schwartzel – had brought the teenage duo to participate in the SA Boys Championship.

Back then, owing to the absence of a player supposed to have been part of Schwartzel’s group, resulted in 14-year old Oosthuizen being instructed to play in the former’s group – thus precipitating an acquaintanceship which abides to this day!

Oosthuizen, who last tasted victory at the 2016 the Perth International in Australia, pointed out that the disappointment of not winning at the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in November, where England’s Lee Westwood pipped him to the post in the last round – spurred him on at the national open.

Worth mentioning was Zambian, Madalitso Muthiya, who, having remained in contention from first day of play, ultimately placed within the Top 10.

Three shots off the lead of Oosthuizen at Round 3 stage, the golfer, who had a handful of flag-caring countrymen following him around Firethorn on Sunday, in addition to being egged on by appreciative local supporters – carded 63, 68, 71, 73.  Impressive throughout, the Zambian’s only previous link with the tournament emanated from memory from his days as a junior golfer – where he watched Els on television, lifting the SA Open trophy.

The national championship’s Player-Host, Ernie Els’ nephew, 21-year old Jovan Rebula, lifted the much coveted amateur level prize, the Freddy Tait Cup.  Currently studying at a US varsity, and with his father, Dragan, caddying for him, Rebula, who is Els’ sister, Carina’s son – triumphed over a field which included South Africa’s top-ranked amateur, Wilco Nienaber and the reigning SA Amateur champion, Deon Germishuys.

In the process, he emulated the Big Easy – who had his name inscribed onto it aeons ago, now.  Garnering scores of 67, 70, 70 and 71 over the week, Rebula, who in June became South Africa’s second winner of The Amateur in 123 years, had, in Round 3 of play around Firethorn on Saturday – found himself pitted in the same group with his famous uncle.

Followed by an enthusiastic gallery, Els had shot 68 for a total of eight under par whilst Rebula carded 70, in concluding 54 holes on six under.  Having shot 66 on Round 1 on Thursday, Els ended up in 71 on Sunday, in finishing at eight-under-par.

The week had the vestige of a momentary family affair for both families – with four-time Major champion, Els describing sharing the course with his nephew as “a very special moment.”

“Knowing him since he was in nappies and now playing in the South African Open with him is very special.  As an uncle I’m just so proud.  When he was growing up, I was hoping he’d be a good golfer and he really showed signs.  And I’m happy he’s good enough because he’s going to be a great pro.  I hope he breaks every record I have.  I only have love for Jovan and wish him all the best,” the tournament’s accompanying update letter quoted Els glossing regarding the young prospect.

Jovan Rebula proudly showed off the Freddy Tait Cup after winning the amateurs segment of the 2018 SA Open at Randpark Golf Club. Behind him is Sunshine Tour Commissioner Selwyn Nathan.

Reciprocated Rebula in the same newsletter: “It has always been a dream of mine to play with my uncle in a tournament one day, and to do so at the South African Open is very special.  We had such a fun time.  My uncle is one of my role models, not just on the golf course but off it as well because he’s just such a special person.  He’s always caring for people around him, and I look up to that more than the golf.”

Rebula’s hint regarding his uncle caring about others was accommodated in the event’s programme, in the form of the Hats and Heels Breakfast hosted by the City of Johannesburg in partnership with Liezl Els and The Ernie Els Centre for Autism South Africa – an annual ladies-only fundraising affair aimed at creating awareness around the couple’s foundation.

Established by the couple in 2009, just a few years after discovering that their son, Ben, was profoundly impacted by the disorder – in 2011, they established a centre in South Africa, in order to provide services for lower-resourced families of children on the autism spectrum.

The Ernie Els Centre for Autism South Africa recognizes that every parent and family member plays an important role in helping their child reach his or her fullest potential.  Thus, continues reading a statement gleaned from their website,  their main purpose is offering families comprehensive guidance on how to use best practice support in education and intervention to teach their child.

The statement concludes by claiming that their primary goal is to empower as many families as possible throughout South Africa – adding that funds are raised throughout the year in order to be able to provide support to families and caregivers, free of charge.

The World of Golf Hall of Fame member manages to raise funds for this cause through the staging of the annual Els for Autism Golf Challenge – which to date has raised more than $18 million since its inception in 2011.

Ensconced between a Pro-Am and the tournament proper start on the traditional Thursday, was the annual Youth Golf Development Coaching Clinic attended by about 100 young golfers hailing from Westbury, Alexandra, Eldorado Park and Soweto.

An important element of the City of Johannesburg’s vision to make a major tournament such as the SA Open inclusive of the city’s residents, the programme had the young participants being given one-on-one coaching by a selection of professionals from the Sunshine, Asian and European Tours.

Co-founders of the Els for Autism Foundation, Liezl and Ernie Els walked towards a media zone at the Randpark Golf Club on day 1 of the SA Open.

Promoter of the SA Open, Bongi Mokaba, is quoted on the CoJ website as saying: “This is an experience of a lifetime for these children to personally engage with professional golfers.  There are so many other skills that they learn through golf because the game makes you disciplined and makes you a better person.”  Regarding the main event itself, Mokaba summed up the week, “To have a South African win and a Black African [referring to Zambian, Madalitso Muthiya] in the Top 10 – this has been a tournament to remember!”

Ahead of heading to Mpumalanga for the Sunshine Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, Oosthuizen, who rued that his family was absent to share in the savouring of his sweet moment, pocketed a tidy R2, 773, 750.00.

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