BRANDEN Grace’s Masters debut at Augusta next week will be his fifth appearance in a Major championship, but what is different this time around is that the 24-year-old really feels he belongs on golf’s greatest stage.
In a whirlwind rise to fame, Grace played in the three other Majors last year, finishing in a tie for 51st place at the US Open and tied 77th at the British Open, for which he had previously qualified in 2009, finishing tied 43rd. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship.
Grace began 2012 ranked No265 in the world, but successive wins at the Joburg Open and the Volvo Golf Champions lifted him into the top 100, and victory in the China Open in mid-April ensured his ranking was high enough to make the rest of the Majors that year.
But his ascension was so rapid, Grace felt a little like an outsider needing to prove himself.
This year, having been comfortably ensconced inside the top 40 since his victory last October in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he feels right at home.
“Obviously I’ve changed a lot, last year made me a better player and person, just in the way I handle myself: even when things aren’t going great, I can find a way to make it happen. Obviously I was disappointed with the last Major and missing the cut, but there was always that little bit of extra pressure last year.
“This year I don’t have to worry, I’m No32 in the world, I can just go out and enjoy myself. I don’t have to worry and think I have to play well, I don’t need to worry about what people think. I’m in a good place,” Grace told BDlive in a teleconference on Tuesday.
Grace is one of eight South Africans in the prestigious Augusta field, joining Tim Clark, George Coetzee, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman, and may yet make an even bigger name for himself at America’s most hallowed course.
“The other South Africans are just as excited as me and they think Augusta could suit me because I hit the ball pretty straight, I can shape it a bit and my lob-wedge is good too. I just need to get sharper on my putting so that I don’t worry about the little five- or six-footers you get,” Grace said.
The 2012 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner will be going into the Masters after successive missed cuts at the Houston Open and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but he feels his game is quickly regaining the same levels as in January, when he claimed three top-10 finishes.
“It’s getting back there, even though the last couple of weeks didn’t go to plan. But I’ve made good progress although the scores don’t show that. I’m hitting the ball like I did in January and by Sunday I’ll be ready and then the excitement will hopefully take care of the rest.”