Bountiful weekend for South African golf – can the players ride the wave into the Majors?

The first years of the 21st century saw plenty of South African success in the Major Championships, however that has changed in the last decade.

It wasn't quite the bonanza it briefly promised to be for South African golf last week - but it wasn't bad.

It kicked off in low key fashion, with Brandon Stone winning the Challenge Tour's Limpopo Championship, his first success in nearly three years.

A few hours later, exciting 21-year-old Garrick Higgo claimed the European Tour's Gran Canaria Lopesan Open in stunning fashion, completing a second 63 of the weekend to earn a fifth win in just his 44th professional start.

Across the Atlantic, veterans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel spent much of the final round of the Zurich Classic threatening to complete a Sunday Triple Crown, but they were eventually pipped to the title by Aussies Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman.

Nonetheless, it was a reminder of the country's abundance of golfing talent and yet, at the same time, all three results highlighted a truth.

In Stone's case, he is 28-years-old and a three-time European Tour winner. These are exceptional times so both tour and individual schedules reflect that, but when he won a Rolex Series event three years ago he wouldn't have expected to be thrilled that his next win was on the second tier.

He promised more and can still deliver.

Higgo's triumph was rather more straightforward: he impresses everyone who watches him, the classic case of a youngster who's hit the pro ranks running and is yet to encounter any bumps in the road.

More wins this year, and significant ones, would be no surprise.

What about Oosthuizen and Schwartzel's case of close-but-no-cigar? A little like their careers on the PGA Tour in microcosm.

Higgo's emergence, alongside that of Christiaan Bezuidenhout over the last three years, will be prompting excitement in South Africa, a country that is probably missing out on the thrill of having its golfers contend at the Majors.

From 2000 to 2012 South Africans won nine of the sport's biggest titles and finished second 10 times.

Since then there have been no wins and Oosthuizen has been alone in finishing second (he's also good enough to have done so three times).

Let's take a closer look at the nation's leading performers to see who might disrupt the status quo and where.

Louis Oosthuizen (World No. 33)

South Africa's top-ranked player was so close last week to a first win on American soil, to add to his 14 titles around the world including, of course, the 2010 Open Championship.

He's famously finished second in all four Majors and has a particularly good recent record in the US Open: never outside the top 25 in his last six starts, a run that began with tied second, while his last two starts were tied seventh and third.

He finished T29th at Torrey Pines earlier this year and is 60/1 with Bet365 for the US Open which returns there in June.

Charl Schwartzel (191)

His world ranking has been in freefall so you'd like to think last week will help reverse that trend.

He's struggled since the start of 2020, with just two top 10s and not one since last July (until last week). Owns one worldwide win more than his friend Oosthuizen (15) and has won twice in America - the 2011 Masters and 2016 Valspar Championship.

Schwartzel slips his arms inside a Green Jacket.
Schwartzel slips his arms inside a Green Jacket.

Despite the Major triumph, however, just five top 10s from 52 career starts is a poor return.

Branden Grace (88)

Grace has 15 career wins, so bang around the same mark as Schwartzel and Oosthuizen. He lacks the Major win, but did land five top six finishes in 10 starts from 2015 to 2017.

More recently he's struggled with the putter, although he did win this year's Puerto Rico Open. He's always been a fine performer in wind, proving it in the Middle East, on linksland in Scotland, and at blustery Harbour Town on the PGA Tour.

The latter is a Pete Dye design, like next month's PGA Championship host Kiawah Island, and it's another windy venue. He's 150/1 with Bet365 (and a standout 160/1 for the Open).

Brandon Stone (76)

Capable of brilliance (he won the 2018 Scottish Open with a final round of 60), but also has periods of apparent inertia (his first 20 starts in 2019 reaped only six cuts made and no top 20).

He's shown what he's capable of in the Majors (T12th 2018 PGA Championship), but it's also his only top 30 in nine starts. Maybe worth noting that he owns five top 20s, including that win at Gullane, on Scottish linksland so a good performance in the Open would not be a surprise in the future.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout (40)

The 26-year-old claimed a second and a third European Tour win at the end of 2020, to add to the first he claimed at Valderrama in 2019.

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That breakthrough was a first solid hint that he enjoys a tough test, one his exceptional short game thrives on. That resilience, and some good results among the trees, hints at the US Open being a good fit, but maybe not this year at Torrey Pines.

Garrick Higgo (65)

The left-hander is moving through the tiers with apparent ease, winning quickly on the Big Easy Tour, the Sunshine Tour, in a Challenge/European Tour co-sanctioned event, and now the European Tour proper.

He hits the ball a long way, has improved his short game, putts aggressively and is a quick learner. The future is very bright. A long-hitting, expert-putting left-hander - on paper it sounds a lovely fit for Augusta National.

Erik Van Rooyen (69)

The 31-year-old was a bit of a slow starter, but when he finally made the European Tour he looked immediately at home, solid as a rookie in 2018 and winning a year later.

In that first season he also flirted with the lead in his Major debut at the Open in Carnoustie, added tied eighth in his first PGA Championship start and was T20th at Royal Portrush in 2019. He was also T23rd at last year's US Open.

Notably visited in Carnoustie for a few days a month before that Open debut - he's a plotter and a planner who seems well-suited to the big tests.

Dylan Frittelli (73)

A similar profile to Van Rooyen: went to college in the States, took a while to establish himself in Europe, stuck in there, got the European Tour win, then a foothold on the PGA Tour, and is now based there.

Initially struggled in the Majors, but was tied fifth at Augusta National last November.

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