12th January 2016 | IGT Challenge Tour

Rambo’s first blood

by Michael Todt 11/01/2016

CBezuidenhout SA Open2What an SA Open that was! The word ‘rollercoaster’ even feels an inadequate description of a Sunday that had it all, and who could possibly begrudge Brandon Stone for coming out on top so bravely after seemingly having thrown it away on the front nine.

After ending a four-year South African victory drought in our national Open, Stone rightly stole the headlines and plaudits on a day where a healthy crowd at Glendower cheered on numerous local success stories.

But for me, the one who stood out most was the unflappable, immensely inspiring, and most local lad of them all: Christiaan Bezuidenhout. As golf writer Lali Stander put it, the relatively unknown 21-year old’s second-round of 69 – preceded by a solid opening round of 70 – sparked a flurry of Google activity in the media centre. But then again, an outlier having a blinder for two rounds is almost predictable. As is their inevitable descent down the leaderboard as the tournament progresses, particularly under the spotlight and tremendous pressures of a co-sanctioned event.

But well I never, didn’t ‘Rambo’ just get better and better over the weekend? That 67 in the final round not only oozed class, but demonstrated the poise of a man far beyond his years. And yet, such an impressive display perhaps shouldn’t have been as big a surprise to all of us as it was, given all that has happened in his fledgling career thus far.

Bezuidenhout topped the amateur charts for more than a year between 2013 and 2014, scooping victories at major tournaments such as the Free State GU Open Amateur Stroke Play, Sanlam Cape Province Open and Western Province Stroke Play Championships. He was also snapped up by the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation; an institution well versed in recognising and nurturing the country’s finest talent.

In June 2014 though, the walls caved in on this unsuspecting youngster. Playing at The Amateur Championship in Portrush, Bezuidenhout, who had been dogged by an anxiety-induced stutter since childhood, was handed a nine-month suspension for a doping violation by the International Golf Federation. His crime? Taking beta-blockers for said affliction.

Given the lack of intent on his part, he was spared the maximum two-year ban, although the overall decision hardly smacked of lenience. Suffice it to say, it was a devastating blow.

Yet, true to form, Rambo took it in his stride, paid his dues, and came out the other side stronger, better and even more determined. He joined the pro ranks in March 2015, shortly after his ban expired, and set about re-launching his promising career. The platform to provide him the best opportunity to do so was the IGT Tour, and his performances on the circuit throughout 2015 were startling. He picked up three victories, and, in 12 starts, was placed outside the top five on just three occasions.

Cois du Plooy is the Commissioner of the IGT Tour, and was left beaming at the performance of one of the circuit’s brightest former stars on Sunday.

“On behalf of everyone on the IGT Tour, we’d just like to say a massive congratulations to Christiaan, one of the most talented graduates the IGT Tour has ever seen. It was fantastic to see him show his stuff this week, but none of us here were too surprised. He loves his golf, is such a hard worker and is a dedicated student of the game. He’s just a great kid; well-mannered, and a great credit to his parents, who support him 100 percent.

“We’ve all seen first-hand this week his shot-making ability, but for me, his biggest strength of all is his temperament. With his talent, and such a good head on those shoulders, there really is no limit to what he can achieve.”

And don’t you doubt it either. Added to the collection of feathers in Bezuidenhout’s cap to date are two Big Easy Tour wins in the 2015 season, where he also won the Order of Merit, and a first-place finish in the Sunshine Tour Q-School. He also played in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last year, where he held off many in a world-class field on the international stage to finish in a hugely impressive share of 33rd place.

As a passionate observer, the inclination can be to go over the top, and predictions must be suitably tempered. This is a tremendously competitive profession where consistency at the top is so rare. The weight of expectation, too, can be the undoing of a strong start like this. Added to that, a player’s game can go awry at any time, and for no discernible reason. There is much water to go under the bridge yet, and Bezuidenhout’s journey hasn’t even started.

But, at the same time, it’s also hard to genuinely take cognisance of all that. You don’t have to be too brave to back this horse. Rambo looked as though he belonged from his first tee shot on Thursday to the last putt that rolled in on Sunday, and he won himself many, many fans in the process.

This past week showed the depth and quality of our talent pool in this country. But this guy… he just looks to be the real deal.

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