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In the Swing: Grace gets by with a little help from his friends

Branden Grace’s amazing season is another example of the strength of South African golf, writes Neil Cullen in this week’s column.
Oct 9th 2012, 9:40 AM 371 0

BRANDEN GRACE WON the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday to claim his fourth win of the season and add to what has already been a remarkable season for the South African.

His first full year on Tour was 2009, but he lost his card after just one season and it took him until this year, by virtue of qualifying through Q-School, to regain full playing privileges on the European Tour.

Four wins for a guy like Rory McIlroy may not be much of a surprise, but for Branden Grace it has to have exceeded even his highest expectations and aspirations for the year.

He was asked in his post-tournament interview how he has managed to improve his game so drastically in such a short space of time. The answer was quite simple — he explained that he has been working hard on his short game. Surely it can’t be just as simple as that?

But he comes from pretty good pedigree – he is a product of the Ernie Els Foundation in South Africa and has clearly learned from one of the greatest.

He also had the help of another fellow countryman this week, Louis Oosthuizen, a man who has invaluable experience around the old links at St. Andrews where he won the British Open in 2010. Grace informed media that himself and Oosthuizen “played here in a practice round on Wednesday and he helped me a lot with lines off tees. I’ve not played here a lot of times and, for me, I’ll always tend to favour the right side of a golf course which you can’t do here.

“But I think what really helped was staying with the family, with Louis and them. Every night we had dinner together, we went to functions together and playing with the kids really helped me relax and get ready for it,” added Grace.

The strength of South African gold has been well documented, and they have had another excellent year, but it is no wonder that South African golfers manage to generate so much success when they support each other like that.

It is a relationship similar to the one we see between Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, who had definitely spurred each other on and supported each other over recent years.

So Grace has had a lot going for him, as well as his obvious talent for the game.

But all of the above only goes some way to explaining his meteoric rise this season. At the beginning of the season, he wasn’t even in the top 200 in the world rankings. Now he is in the top 40. His total earnings last year only amounted to around €60,000. This year already he has made over €2 million.

Grace also become the sixth youngest player in history to win four times on the European Tour. At 24, he comes in just behind Seve Ballesteros (20), Sergio Garcia (22), Sandy Lyle (22), Jose Maria Olazabal (22), Tiger Woods (23).

He is clearly following in pretty esteemed company and if he continues to progress there could well be a Major Championship on the cards.

For now, though, he has the Race to Dubai very much in his sights. The win on Sunday has put him up to third on the money list behind Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. You’d have to make McIlroy the strong favourite at this point, but Grace will feel there’s nothing stopping him.

His confidence is sky high and he is certainly playing good enough golf to put pressure on the two men in front of him.

Grace will be able to play with the shackles off having already exceeded season’s expectations. Who knows where the limit is for this young South African?

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Neil Cullen.


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