Golf: Best Performances by South African Golfers in Majors Since 1994
1994 was a historic year for South Africa: the first free democratic elections took place and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President. The country was on the first steps to reconciliation.
It was also a big year in the world of sport as Ernie Els secured his first Major title (the US Open), thus ending his country's 16-year major drought. Before him the last South African to win a major was Gary Player at the 1978 Masters.
Since Els' US Open triumph, South Africans have gone on to be the second most successful nation at the Majors, securing no less then eight Major titles (four US Opens, two Opens and two Masters). America tops the list with 38 titles, but for a country of the size and stature of South Africa, eight Major champions is an impressive feat. Third place goes to Fiji and Ireland with three titles each, courtesy of their golfing heroes Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington respectively.
But what is the most impressive title secured by a South African since 1994? One can argue that winning any Major is an impressive feat, yet some seem to stick out more so then others.
Here is a countdown of the Best Performances South African Golfers in Majors Since 1994:
8. Ernie Els: 1997 US Open
Els and Monty were the only golfers to post under 70 in the final round at the Congressional as the others fell away, but Els hung on to pip Monty by one shot.
Can he do it again in 2011 on the same course? We'll have to wait and see.
7. Retief Goosen: 2004 US Open
The conditions at Shinnecock Hills were especially brutal during the final round, with the average score being that of 79! However, Goosen kept composure and in the circumstances posted a brilliant 71, deservingly winning his second US Open title.
6. Ernie Els: 2002 British Open
Els had to recover from a terrible blunder on the Par 3 15th hole on the final round, where he posted a double bogey and threw away the lead, as well as an intense four-man playoff to deservingly be named "Champion Golfer of the Year". This was the last of Ernie's three Major titles.
5. Trevor Immelman: 2008 Masters
Immelman gracefully kept his nerve to win by 3-shots to pick up his first Major championship. His triumph coincided with the 30 year anniversary of Gary Player's Masters triumph. And in that time, no South African had won. Gary also called Trevor the night before and told him "I know you're going to win". Wise words indeed.
4. Retief Goosen: 2001 US Open
Goosen battled it out with American Mark Brooks, and fought against crowd-favoritism to win his first US Open. Added to this the mental strength he exhibited after his 18th hole blow-out in the 4th round, the Goose's triumph was a special one indeed.
3. Ernie Els: 1994 US Open
Ernie Els was only 24 when he won his first Major at Oakmont. Hailed as one for the future, Els had to overcome a grueling play-off with Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts. His win also meant he was only the third international player since Gary Player in 1964 to win the title.
2. Louis Oostuizen: 2010 British Open
Louis who? This was the exact same question many asked as Oosthuizen stormed to a 7-shot victory at the Home of Golf. St. Andrews is a course designed to suit big drivers, and it was Oosthuizen's accurate and long distance driving that set him up for an emphatic victory. To win by that margin in a Major is truly outstanding.
1. Charl Schwartzel: 2011 Masters
The fourth round was one of the most dramatic and tense conclusions in recent Major history, with so many twists and turns. But it was Charl Schwartzel who emerged triumphant by birding the final four holes. Anyone who birdies the last 4-holes of the final round at Augusta deserves the Green Jacket. Considering the dramatic circumstances surrounding this, I think Schwartzel's win tops the list of achievements.