'Development' golfer earns respect
28 March 2012
For a long time, South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB) students have looked to the likes Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen for inspiration. Now they have a new idol - and he is one of their own.
Former SAGDB student Musiwalo Nethunzwi had been chosen for South Africa's national team for the Africa Zone VI Golf Championships taking place in Malawi in April.
As the news of this filtered down, four teenagers competing in the Glacier Junior Series Ernie Els Tournament at Oubaai Golf Resort and Spa near George recently could hardly contain their excitement.
"We just heard about Musi and we are all really excited by the news," said 14-year-old Riaan Grootboom from George. "It's the first time that a SAGDB member has been selected for the national team on merit. He has become our new idol because this achievement really, really motivates us."
Just a year ago, Grootboom and fellow SAGDB members Franklin Manchest, Jonegan Oliphant and Robin Meyer were in awe of 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
Two months ago, they switched their admiration to local professional Branden Grace after watching the two-time European Tour winner triumph at The Links.
But even Grace has to move over now. Although Nethunzwi hails all the way from Pimville in Soweto, Johannesburg, having someone from the SAGDB's inner circle achieve national glory, trumps all.
'Still inspired by Branden'
"Don't get us wrong, we are still inspired by Branden," said 14-year-old Manchest. "He is a local player from George who came through the ranks. He was a member of the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation and he is closer to us in age. We watched him play and win and we attended two of his press conferences at the Volvo Golf Champions. He was very impressive and his victory inspired us a lot to keep working hard.
"But when one of our own makes a South African team on merit, that is the best news," Manchest said. "Musi has the same background as we do. He also faced a lot of difficulties, but he didn't let it hold him back. He did it with the help of SAGDB coaches, just like us, and that is truly inspirational."
Nethunzwi joined the SAGDB programme in Soweto in 2002 after his older brother, Ponto, persuaded him to take up golf.
'A lot of natural talent'
"He had a lot of natural talent and once he was taught the basics, he quickly rose through the ranks," said SAGDB coach Zac Mavundla.
"When he graduated from us in 2010, he was already a very accomplished scratch golfer. He was given the opportunity to enter the Gary Player School of Champions, based at the World of Golf, and in the last two years he has benefitted immensely from his time there. He just keeps on improving."
Nethunzwi rose to prominence when he when he won three of his five singles matches and combined with Damian Naicker to win three of his five foursomes outings in his debut for the victorious Central Gauteng at the 2011 South African Interprovincial Championships.
Solid performances followed that saw him soar into the top 20 of the South African Golf Association's rankings at the end of 2011.
First amateur title
A family bereavement prevented Nethunzwi from playing the first two tournaments of 2012, but the 22-year-old underlined his growing stature with a tie for 11th at the 2012 SA Stroke Play Championship in February. Just two weeks later, the Soweto Country Club golfer claimed his first amateur title at the Free State and Northern Cape Championship.
Teeing it up in the SAGDB's annual Triangular against Scotland and the SA Juniors, Nethunzwi won a single and halved another and combined with fellow SAGDB graduate Sipho Bujela for one point to emerge as one of their star performers.
Nethunzwi also used a chance to tee it up with the professionals at the Sunshine Tour's Big Easy event at Houghton Golf Club in Johannesburg earlier this month to outshine the country's number one ranked player, Brandon Stone, and finish in a tie for third.
"And then he finished fourth at the Northern Amateur Stroke Play in a field full of top Scottish golfers," added Oliphant. "We know that if Musi can do it, we can do it. That's why he is our number one idol."
"Actually, I think they are making too much of me because I haven't exactly won the SA Amateur," said the quietly-spoken Nethunzwi, "but it is nice to know that I am inspiring the youngsters in the SAGDB programme.
"We have always had the likes of Ernie, Retief, Charl and Louis to look up to, but I think this is what Mr Johann Rupert had in mind when he launched the SAGDB," Nethunzwi said.
"I had to work very hard to get to this level, and the SAGDB gave me my start in golf and supported me for many, many years. Now the youngsters in the programme can look at what I've achieved and they can take motivation from that.
"If that is the way I can pay back the SAGDB for everything they invested in me, I am honoured to have the learners look up to me. I hope I can continue to inspire them for years to come."
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