Jack to a King in 10 months
Last updated: 10th October 2012
Not much more than a year ago, Branden Grace was just one of the world's many, young, invisible professionals struggling to make it in one of the toughest games in sport.
After winning the South African Amateur Stroke Play Championship in 2006 and turning professional in 2007, Grace spent a couple of frustrating years on Europe's development circuit, the Challenge Tour, without winning anything and he didn't manage to do much of note either after he first qualified to play on the European Tour in 2009.
Indeed,it wasn't long before he lost his tour card and had to go back to the European Tour's Qualifying School at the end of last year to get it back.
Golf is full of these unhappy stories, many of which have ended in defeat and failure for a multitude of hopefuls who have been forced to turn their backs on their dreams of making it in tournament golf and either become club pros and teachers or join the ranks of those who work in fields outside of sport.
The 24-year-old, Pretoria-born, Branden John Grace was not one of those.
Some amateur success and time spent as a youngster with good friend Louis Oosthuizen at the Ernie Els Golf Foundation at Fancourt in George, had helped him see that he had the talent.
Then when Oosthuizen won the Open Championship at St Andrews in 2010, Grace began to feel that he too could make it into the big time if he could learn how best to use his talent and then come to believe in himself.
It helped, of course, that he was not a quitter and an inborn determination saw him buckle down and work even harder before going back to the European Q-School and entering a year that would so dramatically change his life and turn him, to use the words of the late 1960's Elvis Presley pop song, "From a 'Jack to a King'.
Today, after his fourth European Tour win this year at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at stately St Andrews on Sunday, his spectacular rise from mediocre obscurity has turned him into a multi-millionaire.
The first South African to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Grace's latest triumph has also brought his world ranking down from 271st place during his darkest days last season to number 37 and, together with his win at home in the Sunshine Tour's Vodacom Origins of Golf Final in the previous week, it installed him as the World's first professional this year to win five World Ranked tournaments
And that's not all.
• With European Tour earnings of €2,028,215 so far this year, he has moved up into third place in The Race to Dubai behind Rory McIlroy (€2,813,962) and Justin Rose (€2,376,628) to put himself within range of winning the Race.
• His victory on Sunday makes him the first player since Martin Kaymer in 2010 (Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, US PGA Championship, KLM Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) to win four times on the European Tour in the same season.
• It also makes him the first graduate ever to win four times in the year after qualifying at the European Q-School.
• His Race to Dubai prize money (€2,028,215) is a record for a Q-School graduate in the first year after graduation, beating Johan Edfors previous best of €1,505,583 in 2006.
• He joins Seve Ballesteros (1978, 85, 86, 88), Ernie Els (2003), Sir Nick Faldo (1983, 92), Miguel Angel JimÚnez (2004), Martin Kaymer (2010), Bernhard Langer (1984, 97), Colin Montgomerie (1999), Lee Westwood (1998, 2000),Tiger Woods (1999, 2000, 01, 02, 05, 06) and Ian Woosnam (1987, 90, 96), in an elite group of players who have won four or more official events in the same European Tour season.
• He has also became the youngest winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, beating the previous record set by Nick Dougherty in 2007 (25 years and 136 days), and the youngest South African to win four European Tour titles in a single season, beating the mark set by Ernie Els in 2003 when he was 32 years and 325 days. Grace is 24 years and 140 days.
• He maintained his 100% record of winning when leading or sharing the lead going into the final round on the European Tour. First, he led by three shots at the Joburg Open after 54 holes. Next he shared a one shot the lead with Nicolas Colsaerts at the Volvo Golf Champions.Then he took a three shot advantage going into the last day of the Volvo China Open and finally he led by four going into the final round of the Dunhill Links.
• This victory is the ninth for a South African in 2012, the most by any country so far this season on the European Tour. Other winners include Louis Oosthuizen (Africa Open and Maybank Malaysian Open), Jbe' Kruger (Avantha Masters), Darren Fichardt (Saint-Omer Open) and Ernie Els (The 141th Open Championship).
• It was also the 110th South African victory in European Tour history.
And all this is only the beginning, according to compatriot Ernie Els, a four-time major winner and almost certainly South Africa's most revered golfer of the 21st century
The inspiration of so many young South African golfers, Els is firm in his belief that Grace has what it takes to go on to win major championships.
He made that clear this week when he said: "I remember winning the (2007) South African Open and he was the top amateur. He's always been a quality player and he's a world contender now."
"I have to say I'm not altogether surprised he's done so well. When Branden was with us at the foundation in 2006 he was clearly an outstanding player and he showed an intense love and commitment for the game.
We are all just so proud of him for the way he has really pushed on from there. He certainly has the perfect game for links golf, hitting those long, low bullet drives. He can really putt, too.
Basically, he's the type of player who can win anywhere. I think he has the game to follow in the footsteps of another of our former Foudation members, Louis Oosthuizen, and go on and win majors, especially an Open.
"It's great to see and you can imagine what an inspiration he is for our current crop of (Foundation) members back in South Africa.
"They'll be looking at him now and thinking anything is possible and, like I always say, if you put in the hard work like Branden has then yes, anything is indeed possible." added the current Open Champion who earlier this year saw Grace truly come alive at the tough Links Course at Fancourt just a week after winning the Joburg Open.
On that auspicious occasion, an upstart Grace showed not a flicker of fear or emotion as he calmly beat both Els and the nation's other most celebrated major winner, Retief Goosen, in the play-off at the tough, Fancourt Links Course, to lay claim to the prestigious, big-money Volvo Champions which was being played in South Africa for the first time after being moved from Bahrain during the Arab Spring uprisings.
Those two victories were both captured on home soil in January and in truth nobody but Grace himself believed he could blaze back in April to win another European Tour biggie - the Volvo China Open - from Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts, another of Europe's fast-emerging new stars.
Nor did anyone expect to see him match the course record of 12-under 60 on a dazzling first day at Kingsbarns last week and then never falter at unforgiving Carnoustie and regal St Andrews to win by two shots from wire-to-wire.
Apart from the fine tee-to-cup golf he played, one of things I most liked about him was the way he kept himself in front and even when he was briefly caught and passed on the final day by the outstanding Danish young gun Thorbj°rn Olesen, he was able to hit back and go on to win.
He has proved to be an outstanding front-runner when taking the lead into the final round, just as Tiger Woods was at the height of his career.
An ability to keep a cool head and not only handle the heavy pressure in these circumstances, but to actually turn it back on their chasing opponents as Woods has so often done - and as Grace did to Olesen on the closing stretch at St Andrews on Sunday - is a very special quality indeed.
Watch this man. You'll be hearing more from him.
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