TOP South African golfer Branden Grace believes his meteoric rise to stardom this season could mark the beginning of a prosperous golf career, though he concedes he did not expect such success this early in his life.
In a magical year, the 24-year-old won four European Tour events and one Sunshine Tour tournament to shoot into the top 50 on the official world rankings.
Apart from becoming the first South African golfer to achieve this huge feat, his fairytale season included back-to-back victories in South Africa at the Joburg Open — a European co-sanctioned event — and the Volvo Golf Champions, a fully fledged European Tour event. To top it off Grace, who is now ranked 34th in the world, also won the Sunshine Tour order of merit.
Looking back, a proud Grace said: "To be honest, I didn’t think I would achieve this so soon. I always thought something would happen sooner or later; I believed a win was around the corner. These days you need one win to boost your confidence and to experience what it is like, and the rest takes care of itself, and fortunately I found myself in such a situation."
Despite being somewhat surprised by his achievements, Grace said it had inspired him to strive for even greater heights in the next few years. "I think this is the beginning of something special," said the new star.
"This year has been great. I have learned a lot, and having played a lot too, I realised how important it is to plan my schedule better, which will be a good thing going forward as I will have a lot more time off to prepare for events. This year was pretty hectic, because I played in as many events as I could, to gain experience and to play at different courses. But I certainly think this is the beginning of something special."
Being ranked among the top 50 golfers in the world aside, Grace was particularly proud that he was viewed in the same light as South Africa’s other top golfers, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els.
"I thought that one day (I could be compared to the likes of Ernie and Charl), but definitely not so soon," Grace said.
"My life plan was to find my feet on the European Tour in a couple of years’ time and then win a tournament and take it from there. But this year has been a dream year. Not only was I able to jump up a few steps, it was nice to be seen in the same eyes as Louis and Charl."
While Grace makes no secret of the fact that hard work and determination are the keys to success as a professional golfer, he believes playing on the European Tour could make him an even stronger golfer.
Apart from the competition being tight, he said the mental strength required to peak outside one’s comfort zone could be invaluable.
"When one plays back home (in South Africa) you are in a comfortable environment, because you are used to the place, the climate is good, and you are around friends. This gives you a sense of belief that you can beat anyone.
"But in Europe you never know what is around the corner. All the golf courses are pretty tough and you never know what the weather will hold, which is a challenge.
"We are pretty fortunate with the weather in South Africa, so to experience the weather over there was a big learning curve this year," he said.
"Through my experiences I believe if you can keep control in weather you are not used to, it could make you a better player."
While Grace has yet to set his goals for next year, he has already set his sights on qualifying for the Masters — an honour only the top 50 golfers in the world have.
"I haven’t set my goals for next year yet," he said. "But I certainly want to stay in the top 50 in the world to secure a place in the Masters; that is a big thing for me.
"And my other big goal toward the end of this was season was to win the Sunshine Tour order of merit, which I achieved. It is every young South African golfer’s dream to win that, so it was fantastic to do it."
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