Anton Haig, Sunday’s winner of the Johnny Walker Classic, has been a future star almost from the 1st time he picked up a golf club at 12.
Anton Haig, Sunday’s winner of the prestigious Johnny Walker Classic, has been a future star almost from the first time he picked up a golf club at 12.
Certainly his parents, Tony and Lorraine, thought so.
They were so sure they had a future champion on their hands, in fact, they sacrificed five years of living together.
Haig senior took care of their farm, some four hours hard driving from Johannesburg, while young Anton, under the wing of his golf-playing mother, benefitted from the top quality coaching, practice facilities and competition in South Africa’s largest city where he quickly rose to become one of his country’s leading amateurs.
This after he had started playing the game with some cut-down clubs that had belonged to his mother.
She said he could have his “own brand new set” when he reached single figures – but that took only another four months, Haig having started his competitive life with an official handicap of 13.
A year later and still in his 14th year saw him playing off scratch and after that there was just no holding him.
He won both the SA Boys and SA Amateur and represented his country twice, once at the Junior World Championships in San Diego where he finished 12th, before he turned professional at 18 and quickly qualified to play on both the Asian Tour, where he has now won twice, and back home on the Sunshine Tour, where he has he has also won twice.
Slimmer, but every bit as tall as Ernie Els, the big-hitting, 6ft 4in young gun who will turn 21 on May 8, has all the elements that go into the making of a champion, including a cool temperament, an impressive repeating swing and a good feel with his putter.
Here he reveals some more about himself in this official Q&A conducted with him after his victory at the stunning Blue Canyon Country Club in Phuket, Thailand, on Sunday
Question: Anton Haig, Johnnie Walker Classic Champion, a tournament that has been won by players like Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Nick Faldo. How does it feel right now?
Haig:: It feels absolutely amazing. Start of the week, I didn’t think this was actually going to be possible. But after that 64, I knew I was hitting the ball good enough to win, and thank God that driver went straight for me today and the putts fell. And the putt on last, what a feeling that was. If only I could explain it in words. Yeah, I really played well this week, and hopefully there are many more to come.
Question Bogey on 17, the birdie on 18 to join the playoff, and another birdie on 18 to win. Tell us about those two birdies at the last.
Haig:: The bogey on 17, I just misread the putt. I actually hit a good one.
But at 18, hit it (his tee shot) left and I thought, “oh, this is trouble,” and I thought I had actually lost the tournament there. But got a good break and had a shot to the pin and was lying on a down slope, not lying too good, hit a great lob-wedge, one of the best shots I’ve ever hit, about three-foot and made it for birdie.
And then the playoff hole, hit a good drive down the middle. Hit a smooth wedge to about ten foot and made that. I mean, what a feeling, birdieing one of the toughest holes out there.
Question How long was the shot (with that lob wedge) to the green?
Haig:: It was 121 yards to the flag.
Question With a great win now under your belt, and European Tour exemption, what’s next for you now?
Haig:: Well, Singapore Masters next week, and then TCL the following, and then I’ll be home for a couple of weeks to relax and let this all sink in.
Question: Could you tell us about your huge drive at the (par 4, 390-yard) 13th? It got there in a rather unusual fashion.
Haig:: I got I bit lucky there. I was planning on hitting my driver to the middle of the green and pushed it slightly and got a very good bounce (off an advertising board) apparently, used the slope and landed softly and couldn’t have put it in a better position. It was a great eagle putt, I thought it was going to go in, but it was short unfortunately.
Question: Can you just tell us a little bit about what you feel you’ve learned playing on the Asian Tour the last 18 months, two years, and where you’d like to be in maybe another two or three years from now?
Haig:: Well, the Asian Tour has really helped me get started. This is my second year on the Asian Tour, and I had a win not long ago. I mean, that win has given me tremendous confidence through these up coming tournaments.
I know that I can win. I know I’m good enough. It’s just a matter of time where everything came together and I was able to know that I had a chance. This week fortunately for me, I’ve been working hard and I’ve really knuckled down. I actually deserve it in a way.
Question: Any friends in the gallery this week?
Haig:: My mom and dad, two amazing people, they have really gone to the extreme and I can’t thank them enough. And to my management group, Chubby Chandler, Mark Bell, Louis Martin, I can keep going, but thank you to them, they have been a tremendous help. To my caddie Jason: Thanks, you kept me calm out there, gave me a few good clubs. I could have hit you on a few, but on the whole we won and I’m happy about that, thank you.
Question: What was going through your mind when you watched Richard and Ollie miss their putts?
Haig:: You know, I thought at worst you’re going to finish tied second and I was going to keep my card anyway. But a win is a much better – a much better feeling. I thought to go out and be confident and know that you can win, and that’s what I did.
Question: Who has been the biggest influence on you golfing-wise?
Haig:: Ernie. Being a fellow countryman, he really has set a great example; and Retief too, they are both extremely awesome players. I mean, I’ve watched them at the Million Dollar from a young age and they have really put a bit of an oomph for me to get to the top.
Question: Scheduling-wise, what will you do, will you continue to play the Asian Tour, or will you join Retief and Ernie playing The European Tour?
Haig:: I’ll continue playing the European co-sanctioned events on the Asian Tour. But now that I’ve won, I’ll be playing a lot more on The European Tour.
Question: Could you pick out – congratulations of course – could you pick out something you’ve learned from Ernie and something you’ve picked up from watching Goose?
Haig:: Well, their fighting spirit. Goose is not one who ever gives up. Ernie’s rhythm and spring is just immaculate. They are just incredible people as well, not ones to brag or anything, they are down-to-earth people. They are the ones to watch. Everybody wants to watch them when they are playing in a tournament.
Question: When you started your week, did you expect to be able to win the tournament or did you have a low goal?
Haig:: I thought I was playing well
The tournament was the first European Tour event since the sporting shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 23-year-old had started the final round three strokes behind his fellow American.
Poulter is six shots back heading into the final round.
The Englishman produced an excellent sand save on the last to see him finish the day at 10 under par.
The 44-year-old’s last appearance on the PGA Tour was in mid-February.
The biennial match between the United States and Europe will now take place in September 2021 at Whistling Straits.
Organisers hope to stage the event in September 2021.