Sweet success in winning the South African Open made it the best day of Brandon Stone’s young life, but the 22-year-old admitted that it had also been the toughest day of his life as he clinched victory by two strokes in a fraught final day at Glendower Golf Club on Sunday.
Having completed his third round early on Sunday morning with three birdies to go into the final round with a two-shot lead, Stone was in sublime form in the opening holes of the fourth round, two more birdies stretching his lead over Englishman Daniel Brooks to five strokes after four holes.
And then the wheels fell off.
Stone began leaking the ball left and right off the fairway and missing short putts as his lead all but evaporated with three successive bogeys from the fifth hole. A birdie on the par-five eighth, where he was fortunate to get away with another wayward drive, brought brief relief, but another trio of bogeys followed on nine, 10 and 11.
Stone was in freefall, but with the advisory words of his father and successful former Sunshine Tour pro Kevin in his mind, the highly-rated prospect showed remarkable composure and mental strength to get back on track, finishing in style with four birdies in his next five holes to reclaim the lead, confirming his victory with nerveless pars on the last two holes.
“It’s incredible to win a tournament that I’ve watched so passionately since I was about five and to have my name on that trophy … you just can’t put a value to it. It’s not meant to be easy, but today was definitely the hardest day of my life. Today was a real roller-coaster, I left every single thing I had out there, which is why I sank down on my knees after the final putt. I was so overcome by emotion, but it’s special.
“I had a stern talk to myself on the 12th tee and a quiet word with my caddy Chris Simmons, who said just get the drive in play. It felt better, like I had been swinging on the first few holes, and there the ball was, middle of the fairway, my favourite yardage. I hit it to six feet and everything just clicked after that,” Stone said.
The winner of the Freddie Tait Cup for leading amateur in the 2011 SA Open, is the first local golfer to win the national open since Hennie Otto’s triumph that year at Serengeti and, in a sure sign that the future of South African golf was in full view on Sunday at Glendower, 21-year-old Christiaan Bezuidenhout finished alone in second place on 12-under-par after an inspired 67 that included seven birdies.
Brooks played solidly but just could not get the birdies he needed in the closing holes to catch Stone, and a bogey on the last left him with a 72 and alone in third place on 11-under.
Family friend Ernie Els, the tournament host but also a mentor for Stone, was in the clubhouse ready to warmly embrace the winner, who is the youngest SA Open champion since the Big Easy’s own breakthrough triumph in 1992 in Houghton.
Stone said a tricky eight-footer for par on the 17th, and a similar length bogey putt he made on the par-three sixth, after his tee shot was short and in the water, was where he won the tournament.
Glendower Golf Club, where Stone lost a lead in the final round of the 2011 SA Amateur Championship, surely saw the unveiling of a new South African golfing superstar on Sunday.