That number is only one percent of the total population of 50 million in South Africa currently.
So why do South African golfers lead the rest of the world outside the USA in winning majors in the modern era?
To understand fully your have to look at all the factors that produce not just world class golfers but also the culture that encourages the youth to strive for excellence in everything they do - especially in sport.
Like in Australia youngsters in South Africa take part in numerous sports like rugby, cricket, athletics, soccer etc. Now scientific research has labeled the ages of 7 years old to 12 years old as the "sampling" stage and critical to developing the basic sport skills required in all sports.
The sports mentioned above help develop running, jumping and throwing, catching skills that in turn fine tune co-ordination and agility at an early age, which if not learn't at an early age will hold back the child back from excelling in sport.
The misconception by most people especially parents is that Tiger Woods from a toddler only played golf has held many a young golfer back and caused early burnout and fallout from the sport. In fact Tiger played basketball, baseball and participated in track events and only specialized in golf later on in his early teens.
Combine this with golf courses that generally play firm and are a good test of golf that encourages young golfers to develop a golf game that suits all conditions.
But the main factor I believe is that the leading South African professionals like Louis Oosthuizen have always supported is local golf and have given back by promoting and growing the game at home.
This tradition from Gary Player, Ernie Els and the current crop of players has created an excellent role model for young golfers in South Africa to emulate.
The ideal all year round weather conditions allows twelve months of uninterrupted golf for the development of golfers all around the country. The South African Golf Association is the recognised body that looks after amateur golf from growing the game at grassroot level all the way to an elite long term player development program.
Other bodies that also play a huge part in developing young golfers are Ernie Els's Fancourt Foundation and the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB).
Both the above are an integeral part of the recent successes of South African golfers in tournaments around the world. Louis Oosthuizen (2010 British Open Champion) and Branden Grace who won four times on the European Tour in 2012 where scholarship holders of the Ernie Els Fancourt Foundation (EEFF).
The EEFF mission is to identify young South Africans predominantly from families of limited resources and provide them with education, life-skill assistance and playing opportunities in order to produce successful well rounded and educated young golfers. Ernie does not just lend his name to the foundation but is heavily active by visiting and spending time with the players.
Founded the same year 1999 as EEFF, the SAGDB is fully supported and endorsed by the Department of Sport and Recreation, R&A and the other South African Sporting Bodies. The main goal is to "Take the game to the people" by introducing it to primary schools in all the states providing free coaching and practice equipment. Most of the programs are delivered by PGA accredited professionals.
The PGA of South Africa was formed in 1925 and has currently 436 fully qualified members who employ and train 221 apprentices.
All the above will mean nothing if elite amateurs and tour professionals have no tournaments to play in. So this is where the PGA Tour plays it's part.
Branded as the Sunshine Tour it provides the springboard for professional golfers to play for prize money in tournaments twelve months of the year.
Currently in the 2013 European Tour schedule seven tournaments of from the Sunshine Tour are co-sanctioned. And this really helps especially the young professionals who have no status on the European Tout the opportunity of gaining membership. These seven tournaments are the main reason why there is so many more South African professionals playing on the European Tour than in previous times.
So who are the players for South Africa that have won those 22 Majors I mentioned at the top of this article. In the 1950's, 60's and 70's the Majors won were at the British Open but in the 1980's, 90's and 21st Century the US Open and Masters have been good to South African's.
- Tim Clarke
- Rory Sabbatini
- David Frost
- Fulton Allem
- Harold Henning
And South African professional golfers who have won on the European Tour include all the winners on the PGA Tour as well:
- Branden Grace
- Thomas Aitken
- Jbe Kruger
- Anton Haig
- Richard Sterne
- Hennie Otto
- Darren Fichardt
- Hugh Baiocchi
- Simon Hobday
I have missed many more but as the above record shows in the majors, the South Africans do very well especially when you compare their record to the whole of Europe where 6.9 million play golf, Asia 13.6 million and the USA 37.1 million.
And like Australia, who also do very well in professional golf, it comes down to these factors:
- Great weather all year round
- Good PGA coaching availability
- Access to golf courses for young golfers starting out
- A long term player development program supported by all stakeholders
All the requirements and ingredients are there so you can expect more South Africans to win many more golf tournaments and major golf championships in the coming years.
David Milne and Lawrie Montague - Pro Tour Golf College
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