“When I shot that 10-under par at the 2012 Joburg Open it gave me a boost, and I thought, ‘I can win’,” says Branden Grace. And he did. In fact, the young South African charged to victory again the next week at the Volvo Golf Champions tournament in Durban. By the end of the season he had become the first player ever to win four times on the European Tour in a season, after earning his place via qualifying school.
But the disciplined Grace, who only turned pro in 2006, stayed under the radar of the all-powerful American golf fans and media. Despite rushing into the world’s top 100, he had to brush off the disappointment of a winless 2013.
However, that time wasn’t wasted. The broad-faced, effervescent George resident grew his reputation as a “good guy” on tour, with his signature “Congrats, bud!” tweets a regular part of post-competition banter.
He steadily ground away at his weaknesses. “I’m pretty good off the tees,” he declared at the time. “That’s a strong point of mine and a great advantage. Approach shots are also one of my strong points. The one thing that’s been keeping me back is the putting, but I feel that’s improving.”
In April this year, Grace won his first tournament on the US PGA Tour, proving he had been working on the right departments of his game. On the final day of the RBC Heritage in South Carolina, it wasn’t until he sunk two dangerous birdie putts on the back nine that he believed he could win. “When I got to 12 and 13 and made a couple of nice putts, I knew I was in there with a chance.”
A private jet to Palm Springs that night for congratulatory drinks with Ernie Els at the home of “The Big Easy” sealed the moment for the sporting annals and welcomed Grace into the proud fraternity of South Africa’s nice-guy, world-beater golfers: Els, Scharl Schwartzel, Gary Player et al. — Ian Macleod
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