Will Bellerive’s strong African history help SA’s PGA contingent?

Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa on the 10th hole during day 3 of the 2016 Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club, Sun City on 12 November 2016.
Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa on the 10th hole during day 3 of the 2016 Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club, Sun City on 12 November 2016.
Image: Christiaan Kotze/ BackpagePix

If you were betting your house on a winner of this week’s 100th PGA Championship at the storied Bellerive Country Club in Missouri‚ you wouldn’t put it on one of the six South Africans in the field.

The season’s fourth major has many contenders – from world No.1 Dustin Johnson to last month’s Open Champion Francesco Molinari.

But SA’s Louis Oosthuizen‚ Branden Grace‚ Charl Schwartzel‚ Dylan Frittelli‚ Brandon Stone and Justin Harding are not even in the top 20 contenders according to the bookies.

Which is understandable because their form has varied from very good to well below par over the course of the season.

But Bellerive has a strong Southern African connection with Gary Player and Zimbabwe’ Nick Price winning the only two majors it has previously hosted. Player won the 1965 US Open and Price claimed the 1992 PGA Championship.

It’s unlikely one of the six South Africans in the field is going to make it three from three at Bellerive for Africa‚ but golf is one sport where form does not necessarily translate to success.

It can be lost and found instantly. One good putt can change a player’s mood and swell confidence while one loose shot can have the opposite effect.

Schwartzel‚ whose 2011 Masters win seems a distant memory now‚ has struggled in the second half of the season. He finished in a tie for second at the Player’s Championship and has two other top 10s.

And at last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio‚ one of the year’s biggest events outside the majors‚ he plodded along for three rounds looking ragged.

And then in Sunday’s final round Schwartzel fired a seven-under 63‚ suddenly finding the game that was good enough to win a major seven years ago.

Will the good vibes from last week’s Firestone Country Club final round fireworks give Schwartzel the mental boost he needs to be a contender at the PGA?

Oosthuizen was runner-up at the PGA last year and is one of a few players to have finished second at every major in his career. He also famously won the 2010 Open at St Andrews and remains SA’s most likely title contender.

He was well-placed at the WGC-Bridgestone last week before falling out of contention during the final round. But his season overall has been steady. If his putter could just get hot for a few days‚ he could go really low.

Grace‚ who was PGA Championship runner-up in 2016‚ has also struggled in the second half of the season after three top 10s on the PGA Tour earlier in the year.

But‚ like his compatriots‚ he is only one good round away from rediscovering the form and game that has made him a top 15 player in the world in the past.

Bellerive is a long course and the popular theory is that it will favour bigger hitters. Molinari though‚ who is not one of the longest players on tour‚ but who played the weekend at Carnoustie on his way to the Open title without a bogey‚ is not buying it.

“Obviously‚ big hitters will have an advantage‚ but that was true at Carnoustie with the bunker positioning and many other things‚” Molinari said. “So I think in general‚ major championships are a test of every part of your game.”

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