South African golfers leading the way with Garrick Higgo, Wilco Nienaber
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by Daniel Hicks
HONG KONG - South Africans are under the spotlight ahead of the US Open at Torrey Pines, while there's been another breakthrough win on the LPGA Tour in AFP Sport's golf talking points this week:
- 'Watch this space'
Left-hander Garrick Higgo became the youngest South African to win on the PGA Tour since Gary Player in 1958 and he revealed after his win at the weekend that he has the legend in his corner.
Higgo's victory from six shots back entering the final round at the Palmetto Championship was the prolific 22-year-old's fifth title in his last 27 starts worldwide, adding to three European Tour wins and one on his home Sunshine Tour.
"He (Gary) phoned me this morning, actually, and he told me he's done it before quite a few times, the way he's won from six behind, seven behind," said Higgo after winning on only his second PGA Tour start.
"He just said don't think too much about what the other guys are doing, just kind of do your thing and stay up there, and you never know what could happen."
"Seeing @garrick_higgo win his first PGA Tour event in only his second start has been one of the most enjoyable things for me to witness in my career," Player said.
"He is without a doubt the most humble, well mannered young man that you could wish to meet. Watch this space, big things to come!"
Seeing @garrick_higgo win his first PGA Tour event in only his second start has been one of the most enjoyable things for me to witness in my career. He is without a doubt the most humble, well mannered young man that you could wish to meet. Watch this space, big things to come! pic.twitter.com/US5Qho6bL3— GARY PLAYER (@garyplayer) June 13, 2021
- DeChambeau's rival -
Talking of young South Africans, Wilco Nienaber will turn heads on his US Open debut starting Thursday - including that of defending champion Bryson DeChambeau.
That's because the 21-year-old has been setting distance records to rival DeChambeau.
At the Joburg Open last year, he hit a 439-yard tee shot, a European Tour record and though he finished tied 14th behind Higgo at the weekend, Nienaber led the field with a mammoth 361 yards average off the tee.
So who might have the edge if Nienaber is paired with DeChambeau at Torrey Pines this week?
"It'll be pretty similar," said Nienaber, whose wiry 6ft 2in (1.88 metre) 175lb (80kg) frame is a complete contrast to bulked-up Bryson, who is slightly shorter at 6ft 1in (1.85m) but tips the scales at around 240lb (109kg).
"I'm not sure what the difference will be between the two of us, but it will look very different, the way we get the numbers," he added.
"But it'll be cool to see. Bryson's done a really cool thing. I admire him. It'll be interesting."
- 'Anything is possible' -
The year of milestones in 2021 shows no signs of abating.
Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese male to win a major at the US Masters in April.
Phil Mickelson became the oldest to lift one of the big four at last month's US PGA Championship.
And last week Yuka Saso's US Women's Open triumph made her the first player from the Philippines to win a major.
Now Matilda Castren has become the first player from Finland to win an LPGA Tour title.
"I'm the first one to win from Finland, and I bet a lot of people didn't think it was possible. I had my doubts myself, too," said LPGA Tour rookie Castren, 26, after her Mediheal Championship victory on Sunday.
"But I just want to send a message that anything is possible and just to reach for your goals."
Never more true than in 2021, it seems.
- World rankings -Leading men and women, week beginning June 14, 2021:
1. Dustin Johnson (USA) 9.98
2. Justin Thomas (USA) 8.11
3. Jon Rahm (ESP) 8.06
4. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.29
5. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 6.86
6. Xander Schauffele (USA) 6.75
7. Patrick Cantlay (USA) 6.32
8. Patrick Reed (USA) 6.05 (+1)
9. Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 5.98 (+1)
10. Brooks Koepka (USA) 5.88 (-2)
39. Garrick Higgo (RSA) 2.96 (+15)
1. Ko Jin-young (KOR) 9.42
2. Park In-bee (KOR) 8.61
3. Kim Sei-young (KOR) 7.66
4. Nelly Korda (USA) 7.40
5. Brooke Henderson (CAN) 6.20
6. Danielle Kang (USA) 5.88
7. Lexi Thompson (USA) 5.72
8. Yuka Saso (PHI) 5.49 (+1)
9. Kim Hyo-joo (KOR) 5.44 (-1)
10. Nasa Hataoka (JPN) 5.42
71. Matilda Castren (FIN) 1.84 (+87)
© Agence France-Presse