Christiaan Bezuidenhout must have felt a bit like an ant standing next to an elephant back in the 2000s when he followed Ernie Els around the Gary Player Country Club; now Bezuidenhout has inherited The Big Easy’s mantle as South Africa’s main hope in the Nedbank Golf Challenge that starts at Sun City on Thursday.
The 2000s was an era of dominance for South African golfers in the event, with Els winning in 2000 and 2002, Retief Goosen in 2004 and Trevor Immelman claiming the famous trophy in 2007.
Bezuidenhout and compatriots like George Coetzee and Zander Lombard were impressionable youngsters back then and the prestige of Africa’s Major is ingrained in them. The 28-year-old Bezuidenhout is based on the US PGA Tour and is South Africa’s highest-ranked golfer in the field, and he also won the SA Open on the Gary Player CC course in 2020.
“Since 2000, we watched every year until 2012,” Bezuidenhout recalled on Wednesday. “I would watch the practice rounds, the short games, out on the course and inside the ropes.
“It was always my dream to play in this event and I’m very glad it’s back on the schedule. A lot of really good names are on the trophy, like Ernie, Retief, Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Seve Ballesteros.
“As a South African, you really want to put your name on that trophy because it’s a special event for us, there’s a bit more for us South African guys to play for.
“Playing in the United States, I’ve learned a lot. It’s a different style of golf, the grass is different. The strength and depth of fields is so good that you’ve got to try and save every single shot,” Bezuidenhout, who made his NGC debut in 2019, the last time the event was held due to the Covid pandemic, said.
Englishman Tommy Fleetwood has owned the title since then, bringing the daunting Gary Player Country Club course to its knees with a final-round 65 that saw him into the playoff he won against Sweden’s Marcus Kinholt.
“This is a very special event for me. I’m not South African but I grew up watching it with my dad every year. I love the history behind it and the winners,” Fleetwood said.
“When you walk down the ninth hole on the left and you see all the winners from all the years on that walkway, I often thought it would be great to add my name on there.
“To get that win was very cool and we’re all excited to come back. I love the game in this country and how popular golf is over here. I’ve always enjoyed playing out here,” the top—ranked player in the field said.
Although LIV Golf has caused much heartache to the DP World Tour, participants in that breakaway league are teeing it up at Sun City, including South African Branden Grace, the 2017 champion.