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Ken Borland

The services of his rolodex may not be required, but Homa’s eagle at 9 to win NGC will live long in the memory 0

Posted on November 12, 2023 by Ken

Max Homa of the United States with the trophy as he celebrates his four-shot victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player CC on Sunday.
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Max Homa probably won’t actually enlist the services of a rolodex when it comes to remembering his magnificent approach shot on the ninth hole at Gary Player Country Club on Sunday, but the winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge left no doubt that his superb three-iron that led to a defining eagle will live long in his memory.

And also in the history of the tournament as Homa’s second from 240 yards landed 18 feet from the pin on the iconic ninth green and he rolled in the eagle putt. With Thorbjorn Olesen having just claimed his sixth birdie of the front nine to catch the American on 16-under-par, the eagle gave Homa a crucial two-shot buffer as the back nine beckoned.

“The second on the ninth was the shot of the tournament for me,” Homa said after clinching an impressive four-shot victory, his great final round of 66 taking him to 19-under-par.

“My coach [Mark Blackburn] always says I must have a rolodex of big moments to look back on and that was definitely one for the memory bank.

“I had a good lie in the semi-rough and a good number, and I hit a great three-iron. If you don’t get the ball very high in the air here then the elevation doesn’t help as much and it was a bit shorter than I wanted.

“But it was one of those shots you dream about and a really great time to hit a good shot. I was three-under at the time but still tied for the lead, which shows how impressively Thorbjorn played.

“I wanted to make a statement to myself and not back off. I didn’t need to play that shot because I was sharing the lead, but I knew I could make it. My caddy [Ben Marsh] said if I feel it then I must just go for it, and then I sunk a great putt,” Homa said.

The on-fire Olesen also birdied the par-five 10th hole from close range and the Dane was back level again when Homa bogeyed the par-four 11th, his approach being too far left and two chips being required to get on to the green.

But the class of the world number eight then shone bright as a beacon, almost like the giant star that is traditionally lit up on the hill overlooking Sun City as the festive season kicks into gear.

Olesen (-14) and Nicolai Hojgaard (-15) both missed key chances in the closing holes and Olesen surrendered second place to his compatriot when he double-bogeyed the 17th, missing a short putt for a five on the famous par-four, having found the fairway bunkers with his drive.

What Homa later described as a “humungous stroke of luck” saw his errant drive on the 14th hit a rules official’s cart parked on the pathway next to the fairway, preventing the ball from bouncing into the think Pilanesberg bush. He was able to par the par-five and then a seven-foot birdie on the 15th put Homa two ahead, and an unlikely birdie on the par-three 16th, when he rammed in a 38-foot putt, sealed the deal.

Fellow American Justin Thomas also shot a 66 on Sunday to soar up the leaderboard into fourth place on 12-under-par, while DP World Tour rookie Dan Bradbury finished fifth on 11-under, the rubble of three bogeys and a double-bogey on the par-four 11th being too much to sustain a challenge despite his six birdies.

The removal in recent times of American contenders from the Nedbank Golf Challenge – Jim Furyk being the last United States golfer to win in 2006 – has certainly taken some of the gloss off the tournament, but Homa was appreciative of the history of Africa’s Major and delighted to now be part of its legacy.

“I’m big into manifesting and there are some pretty big names on the plaques of all the winners around the ninth green – Seve Ballesteros and Ernie Els are greats of the game. So I was picturing my name on one of those plaques and to achieve that, especially straight after Tommy Fleetwood, who is one of my favourite people on the planet, is really special.

“I know Tommy really wanted to win three in a row, but he got us at the Ryder Cup and now I’ve got one on him,” a grinning Homa said.

Grace passes a long day with banter & not letting his cold putter get to him 0

Posted on February 13, 2023 by Ken

Branden Grace passed a long Saturday on the Gary Player Country Club course by bantering with his caddy and not letting his cold putter get to him, and his relaxed approach worked as he will go into the final round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge just one stroke off the lead.

Due to the torrential rain on Friday, Grace had to complete 11 holes of his second round on Saturday morning, birdieing the ninth hole and then four of the first five holes on the back nine to rapidly climb the leaderboard. Although he struck the ball beautifully in the third round on Saturday afternoon, he only made two birdies and had to settle for a one-under 71. But it worked in terms of consolidating his position, and he and fellow South African Thriston Lawrence will start Sunday’s final round just one behind Thomas Detry and Rasmus Hojgaard.

“I feel good and I’m hitting the ball really good, probably as well as I have ever hit it around here,” Grace, the 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge champion, said. “But I just could not get the pace of the greens.

“Every putt was probably a foot out, and it was probably because there was a bit of drizzle every now and then on the greens. But I will keep the same process in the final round.

“I have a mate on the bag and we talked a lot of nonsense out there, but sometimes taking your mind off the golf puts your head in a good space. Like when I won here, I’ll just try and go bogey-free in the final round.

“There’s always someone who comes out with a six or seven-under score, but if I can shoot five or six-under then I will definitely have a shout. But there’s no pressure on me, I’ve won it before and I’m just enjoying life and my golf,” Grace said.

It is little wonder that the 34-year-old is relaxed because he took away R304 028 130 from the six LIV Golf events he completed.

Lawrence was another who walked away from the Gary Player Country Club on Saturday evening extremely satisfied with his work, a seven-under-par 65 which was the best score of the third round. Beginning on the 10th, he had a birdie-bogey start, but then reeled off three successive birdies from the 13th hole. He gained back-to-back shots on the 18th and first holes, and then capped an outstanding round with birdies on the sixth and ninth holes.

“From the first round, my tee-to-green play has probably been my best all year, but my putter just wasn’t there,” Lawrence said. “But I stayed calm and patient and started to sink a few putts today.

“It was probably my best ever round on this course, and I couldn’t have asked for better than to be a shot back in my first time playing the Nedbank Golf Challenge. So it is exciting times,” Lawrence said.

Shamsi gives prim & proper answer of ‘trying to do my best every game’ 0

Posted on November 16, 2022 by Ken

Proteas wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi gave the prim and proper answer of “trying to do my best every game” when asked on Monday what his approach to South Africa’s T20 series against India will be, but trying to get one over the powerful home batting line-up is clearly also in the back of his mind.

Not just because the Proteas will play India again in Group II at the T20 World Cup in Australia next month, but also to prove to the world’s biggest cricket market that he truly is one of the world’s best white-ball spinners.

Compared to his career stats – 69 wickets in 56 T20 Internationals, economy 7.11, strike-rate 17.70, average 21.02 – Shamsi’s record in India is clearly inferior: In 6 matches he has taken just three wickets at an average of 48, his economy is 8.47 and his strike-rate 34.

“I’m not sure what conditions will be like, but I will prepare exactly the same as my previous times there,” Shamsi said in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday. “I was happy with my performance in England.

“But it’s always challenging against India. I won’t be changing much, previously it’s just been a few balls that I haven’t executed properly. Some days you’re just a bit off the mark and the batsmen do well, you get hit for just a couple of sixes here and there.

“The boundary sizes tend to be smaller here in India and the pitches will be different to Australia. But there are always things to work on, and bowling at these Indian batsmen with them being in our group at the World Cup, it’s an opportunity to observe and maybe pick up one or two things to use later on,” Shamsi said.

Wednesday’s match will only be the third T20 International to have been played at the Greenfield International Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram. The first one was a game shortened to eight overs against New Zealand in 2017, which India won with a total of 67/5. In 2019, India posted 170/7 against the West Indies and lost by eight wickets with nine balls to spare.

The stadium doubles as a football field, so there are bound to be some short boundaries.

But Shamsi said this current Proteas team are unfazed by challenges these days, having come through so much together.

“The mood is really good in the camp, we’re excited to be back together as a group and it’s always a nice challenge against India. This team is all about overcoming challenges.

“Our expectations are the same, but obviously with the World Cup coming up, we will keep one eye on the future as well. Preparing for that is our first priority.

“So the captain and coach might want to play around a bit with the team, and that’s okay,” Shamsi said.

Mark Boucher is never going to be a llama, but he is unfairly pilloried 0

Posted on October 31, 2022 by Ken

Mark Boucher is never going to be soft and cute and adorable like a llama, it’s just not his personality and he probably would not have been a great cricketer if he had been. As a coach, the players I have spoken to appreciate his straight-talking approach, but also say he is amazing at encouraging and growing cricketers.

Those coaching qualities have now been recognised on arguably the greatest international stage of all as he was announced on Friday as the Mumbai Indians’ new IPL head coach. Mumbai is not just India’s largest, richest city, it is also home to the IPL’s most successful franchise, having lifted the cup a record five times since 2013.

Boucher may yet turn out to be the prophet not recognised in his home town, but any unbiased examination of his three-year term in charge of the Proteas would acknowledge the tremendous strides the team has made since the utter shambles of 2019.

Yet it seems the most prolific wicketkeeper in the history of the international game still cannot win when it comes to certain segments of South African cricket.

His announcement that he would be moving on from the Proteas job after the T20 World Cup in Australia next month was greeted in some quarters by criticism that, having fought tooth and nail to stay in the job, he was now giving it up a year before his contract expires.

This is most unfair, but par for the course when it comes to criticising Boucher, who for some reason attracts a lot of illogical hatred.

The reason Boucher fought so hard to stay Proteas coach was not so much for the job, but because he was rightfully spitting mad that he was about to be fired for scurrilous allegations of racism. There can surely be no greater stain on a White South African’s name than being called racist?

So Boucher was pilloried for trying to clear his name – justice did prevail in that regard – and now gets accused of leaving the Proteas in the lurch.

Boucher knows that unless he wins a World Cup between now and the end of next year, he was never going to have his contract renewed. While there are much nicer people in charge at Cricket South Africa these days, there is still a significant lobby from the old guard that continues to infect the structures. There are still loud anti-Boucher voices, as we have seen his week.

So when the option to become a head coach in the most lucrative cricket league comes around, who in their right mind would not take it? Mumbai Indians have been through a lean spell over the last couple of years, so Boucher will be under pressure to get results. But it will strictly be pressure based on what happens on the field, and not the sort of political sideshows he had to deal with in South Africa.

That will be for his successor at the Proteas to now handle and there are good candidates waiting in the aisles.

There had been speculation that Boucher would land up in Cape Town as the head coach of the new Mumbai Indians franchise that is playing in the SA20. Given the amount of ill-feeling towards him that festers in that city, that would have been an intriguing turn of events.

It was interesting to hear Joburg Super Kings coach Eric Simons say this week that T20 has become the most tactical format of the game, the one that requires the most thinking. That flies in the face of some perceptions that it is just a bunch of gym bunnies trying to smash the ball out of the ground all the time.

Likewise, Boucher is perhaps misperceived as this hard-nosed coach who shouts at the players and believes in his way or the highway. In fact, the best work Boucher has done with the Proteas has probably been around freeing up their mindsets, encouraging them to think out of the box and pursue new strategies.

He seems a great fit for the IPL and I will be watching his progress with great interest.

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    Philemon 1:7 – “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”

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