Top South African Golfers: The Past, the Present and the Future

Bobby Locke was the first South African golfer to make it big on the international golf scene. And the interesting thing is that all of his success (which included four Open Championships and slew of victories on the PGA Tour) almost never came about because of a mining career.

He had always been a talented golfer and was playing off a scratch handicap at sixteen years old. As a young man with a great deal of success as an amateur golfer, Locke opted to enter the mining industry rather than turn pro, but his employers had other ideas and sent him to London to enter the British Open where he won the Amateur Medal.

Thoroughly bitten by the golf bug, Locke decided to turn pro and soon thereafter won the SA Open for the first of six times. After a series of 14 exhibition matches against American golfing legend Sam Snead, which Locke won 12 to two, Locke hit the US PGA Tour where he had instant success. His US golf career lasted two-and-a-half years during which he played 59 events, winning 11. He also set the record for the greatest victory margin when he won the Chicago Victory National by 16 strokes.

Locke was banned from the tour, ostensibly in a dispute over playing commitments, which was when he began to concentrate on European and African events. He went on to win the Open Championship four times and won a total of 23 European titles. He won the Australian Open and 38 South Africa Tour titles.

His strength was his putting, and he coined the phrase: "You drive for show, but put for dough". His putting style was unorthodox but effective, prompting Gary Player to say, "One six-foot putt, for my life? I'll take Bobby Locke. I've seen them all, and there was never a putter like him. 100 or so competitive rounds I played with him, I saw him three-putt just once …. You had to see it to believe it. "

A car accident which impaired his sight put an end to his golf career, but in 1977 Bobby Locke was elected to the Wold Golf Hall of Fame, which is where he rightfully belongs.

Gary Player is the Black Knight of golf and is a legend in the golfing world, not only for his golfing talent (which is rare) but also for his golf course designs, his charitable commitments, his dedication to fitness (which has allowed him a golf career spanning six decades) and his quote phrase, "The more I practice the luckier I get".

In total, Player has won 165 tournaments over six continents (as yet the Antarctic has yet to host an international golf tournament). His golf career started when he was 14 when his father took out a loan to buy him his first set of clubs; the risk was worth it as at the tender age of 17 Player was a professional golfer.

In terms of number of wins, Player is behind only Roberto de Vicenzo and Sam Snead; he won nine major championships and is one of five players to have won a career Grand Slam. He won the SA Open 13 times (more than anyone else), and the Australian Open seven times. For a long time he held the record for most victories in the World Match Play Championship (five) until it was equaled by Seve Ballesteros, and then beaten by Ernie Els. According to Wikipedia, he was the only player in the 20th century to win the (British) Open in three different decades.

In 2000, Gary Player was voted South Africa's "Sportsman of the Century", he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 (three years before Locke), and is one of only 10 golfers to be made an honorary member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. He played his last Masters tournament in 2009.

His interests beyond golf include The Gary Player Stud Farm, which is renowned internationally for its thoroughbred horses; The Player Foundation, which promotes education among underprivileged children around the world; and Black Knight Enterprises, which includes wine, publishing and events. Gary Player Design, which is the golf course design side of things, is run according to strict environmental considerations, especially the conservation of water.

And if you wondered what it's like to be related to such an overachiever, consider that his brother, Dr Ian Player, is an internationally acclaimed wildlife conservationist accredited with saving the white rhino from extinction.

Ernie Els, or the Big Easy as he is also known, has the distinction of knocking Tiger Woods off his world number one ranking, even if it was only for a short while. Els grow up playing a number of sports, including cricket, rugby and tennis. He was eight years old when he started playing golf with his dad and by the time he was 14 he was playing off a scratch handicap. In 1984, Els won the Junior World Golf Championship, beating Phil Mickelson. Soon after that he became the youngest ever player to win the South African Amateur Championship, breaking Gary Player's record as the youngest winner.

Career highlights include 18 PGA Tour wins, 15 Sunshine Tour wins, three Major Championship titles, two World Golf Championships and one Japanese Golf Tour win. He has won the World Match Play Championship a record seven times and was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2010 (he will be inducted in 2011). He also held the record for the most weeks ranked in the world top ten: over 750.

Els is also known for his charitable commitments, the most important of which are his autism-related activities. In 2008, Els announced that his son was autistic and in 2009, he launched an annual charity golf event, the Els for Autism Pro-Am, which raised $ 725,000 for The Renaissance Learning Center, a non-profit charter school in the area for autistic children.

He has also established the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation, which identifies talented young golfers from disadvantaged backgrounds and provides them with proper education and moral and financial assistance.

Like Locke, Els has had some trouble with US PGA officials over his willingness to participate in global events rather than spend all of his time on the US PGA Tour. Undeterred, Els still participates in tournaments around the world. And, like Gary Player, Els also designs golf courses.

Louis Oosthuizen is a young up-and-coming South African golfer who recently announced his presence in a big way by winning the 2010 Open Championship. Oosthuizen was one of the young players identified by the Ernie Els Foundation that advocates promising young golfers. His dedication and success have proven the effectiveness and value of the foundation in the lives of young players.

Oosthuizen turned pro when he was nineteen years old and has won five tournaments on the Sunshine Tour. 2010 has been a big year for Oosthuizen as he won his first European Tour and also won the 2010 Masters Par 3 Contest, not to mention that Open Championship.

At the time Oosthuizen entered the Open, he was ranked 54th in the world and had only made the cut once in eight major championship appearances. His win catapulted him to 15th in the Official World Golf Rankings and he is now ranked higher than compatriot Retief Goosen. With his win, he became only the fourth South African to win the British Open, after Bobby Locke, Gary Player and Ernie Els.

If he carries on in the footsteps of these other South African greats, we can expect great things from Oosthuizen in the future.

Source by Phil Smulian