LOUIS REMAINS
SA’S NO 1
PERFORMER

ALFRED DUNHILL TITLE CONFIRMS
HOW WE MISS HIM IN THE MAJORS

Published by : Stuart McLean - 13 December 2023

Louis Oosthuizen’s display at Leopard Creek is a clear indication he remains South Africa’s No 1 golfer, and it’s sad he will not be contesting three of the four major championships in 2024. Louis did not enter the previous two DP World Tour events at Houghton and Blair Atholl, had not played a tournament for more than six weeks, yet was on a higher plane than anyone else in winning his first Alfred Dunhill Championship.

He did so at 41 (the oldest champion), demonstrating that age is no barrier to what he still could achieve in the game. Not surprising considering that rhythmic swing of his. What was most impressive about this victory was the smooth putting stroke he sustained for five straight days.

Louis Oosthuizen with the distinctive leopard trophy presented to the Alfred Dunhill champion.

The Opening Swing of the DP World Tour has shown that our older campaigners like Oosthuizen and 39-year-old Charl Schwartzel are, worryingly, leaps ahead of the younger brigade on this bigger stage.

Schwartzel will be at the Masters in April as a past champion, but only one South African professional has so far qualified to play at Augusta National alongside him. That’s Erik van Rooyen, 33, who won recently on the PGA Tour. Also playing as an amateur will be Christo Lamprecht, by virtue of his British Amateur success.

It’s a far cry from the year 2013 when the SA contingent at the Masters numbered as many as eight professionals.

Today, however, we only have two golfers in the Top 100 of the Official World Ranking, and not a single SA golfer under the age of 30 has a Top-10 finish in a major championship.

Oosthuizen and Schwartzel played a different course to the rest of the field at Leopard Creek, and their final round duel had similarities with that between Retief Goosen and Ernie Els at the 2005 SA Open. On that occasion at The Links at Fancourt they also distanced themselves from the pack. Oosthuizen, with 25 birdies and one eagle (a 2 at No 6 which he played in 5-under), was eight shots clear of those tied for fourth. And he tied the course record with a 63 on Saturday.

This was easily his lowest 72-hole score in the tournament. Leopard Creek hasn’t always been to his liking. He was T-2 with Schwartzel in 2005, but then missed the 36-hole cut for five straight years! Including 2010 when he was Open champion. Finally, he had another second place finish in 2014, but trailed winner Branden Grace by seven. Victory at last – his sixth DP World Tour title in South Africa – will come as a relief.

Schwartzel looks as if he could play Leopard Creek blindfolded. He won the first Alfred Dunhill Championship played there in 2004, and has had a remarkable love affair with the course ever since. That first win, in a playoff, age 20, was his breakthrough European Tour triumph.

In the 16 Dunhill tournaments in which he has played – he missed two of them – he has won four titles (2004-2012-2013-2015), finished runner-up five times, and been third and fourth. Three times he has missed the cut. In 58 rounds he has a stroke average of 69.43, and has broken par 49 times. His lowest round was a 64 and he had two of them on his way to a record-breaking score of 24-under 264 in his 2012 victory.

Schwartzel looks as if he could play Leopard Creek blindfolded. He won the first Alfred Dunhill Championship played there in 2004, and has had a remarkable love affair with the course ever since. That first win, in a playoff, age 20, was his breakthrough European Tour triumph.

In the 16 Dunhill tournaments in which he has played – he missed two of them – he has won four titles (2004-2012-2013-2015), finished runner-up five times, and been third and fourth. Three times he has missed the cut. In 58 rounds he has a stroke average of 69.43, and has broken par 49 times. His lowest round was a 64 and he had two of them on his way to a record-breaking score of 24-under 264 in his 2012 victory.

Leopard Creek clubhouse overlooking the ninth and 18th greens.

THE MODERN TRIPLE CROWN OF TITLES

The Dunhill is now part of the Sunshine Tour’s modern Triple Crown of titles. It used to be the SA Open, PGA and Masters. Now it is the SA Open, Joburg Open and Dunhill, all part of the DP World Tour and played continuously for a big chunk of this millennium.

The Triple Crown has only been achieved by two players, Richard Sterne, who won all three in the same year of 2008, and Grace (Joburg Open 2012, Dunhill 2014, SA Open 2020).

Seven players have two legs of the Triple Crown: Schwartzel (Dunhill 4 and Joburg Open 2), Andy Sullivan (Joburg Open and SA Open in the same year 2015), Dean Burmester (Joburg Open and SA Open 2023), Thriston Lawrence (Joburg Open and SA Open), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Dunhill and SA Open 2020), Ernie Els (Dunhill and SA Open), and Oosthuizen (Dunhill and SA Open).

The average score at Leopard Creek at the Dunhill was 72.58. The renovation of the course in 2017, and change of grass used on fairways and greens, has made it that more difficult even though players are hitting their drives further and thus shortening many of the holes. This year there were almost 100 fewer birdies on the par 5s than in 2016, the year before Johann Rupert closed the course for the revamp.

The three par-5s on the back nine (13-15-18) are all outstanding risk-reward holes with water and out-of-bounds coming into play. Each requires strategic thinking, and it was noticeable that Oosthuizen played them cautiously throughout, not trying to find the greens with lengthy second shots. With his outstanding wedge game he still played them seven-under for the week.

The par-3 seventh, with its water hazard flanking the green, was again the toughest hole for the tour pros, averaging 3.35. The stretch from 7 to 9 regularly has the three most difficult holes. No 9 pipped No 8 at 4.29 to 4.28. Easiest hole was the 284-metre sixth at 3.60.

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