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20th June 2017 | Big Easy Tour

Gary Player Class of 2017 golfers continue to shine

By Michael Vlismas

The Sunshine Tour’s Gary Player Class of 2017 continues to impress as South African golf’s groundbreaking development squad for previously disadvantaged professionals, with a record six of its golfers finishing within the top 35 in a recent Sunshine Big Easy Tour event.

Omar Sandys (pictured) and Jacquin Hess led the squad’s standout performance at the recent R400,000 Big Easy Joburg City Masters at Country Club Johannesburg.

Sandys finished second on 10 under par and only two strokes behind champion Jaco Prinsloo, and Jacquin Hess shared third place on seven under par and only five strokes off the winning total.

Makhetha Mazibuko, who finished last season as one of the top performers in the squad after his second place in the Eye of Africa PGA Championship, ended this tournament in 16th place on two under par.

Allister de Kock finished tied 28th, while Musiwalo Nethunzwi and Irvin Mazibuko finished tied 35th.

It’s another resounding endorsement of a development programme for previously disadvantaged professionals that aims to be the most holistic in the Sunshine Tour’s history.

A squad of 24 players has been identified for the programme and these players receive comprehensive financial and coaching support to give them the best possible opportunity to compete on an equal footing on the Sunshine Tour, Sunshine Big Easy Tour and IGT Challenge Tour.

“It’s not just about money. It’s about a black professional standing on the tee in a major summer tournament feeling like he can win because of the training and opportunities a programme like this has given him,” says veteran professional and leading rules official Theo Manyama, the Chief Executive Officer of the squad.

The players attend three training camps per year in which they receive full coaching support in all areas of their games as well as financial management advice.

The detailed approach of the programme even includes social media advice and support for each player in this regard.

“We said from the start that this is a social programme and not just a golf development programme. To make the kind of difference we want to in these golfers’ lives you need partners who are as committed as we are to this programme,” says Selwyn Nathan, Executive Director of the Sunshine Tour.

“For this we have to thank our programme sponsors in Investec Property, Morecorp, Virgin Active, Rhode Island, PWC, MultiChoice, BMW, the Darren Clarke Foundation, ISM and the IGT Challenge Tour who have bought into the vision of this programme.”

After the launch of the squad late in 2016, the Gary Player Class of 2017 made an immediate impact on the main summer leg of the Sunshine Tour.

Mazibuko finished second in the Eye of Africa PGA Championship, losing in a playoff to Erik van Rooyen.  And then Keenan Davidse followed with a career-best of tied seventh in the Joburg Open – a European Tour co-sanctioned event.

“The Gary Player Class of 2017 is awesome, and I hope my performance in the Joburg Open will be motivation for the other guys to also play better golf and start focusing on what they need to do. To be fair, we’re sitting on a gold mine – if we play well we can get the reward,” said Davidse.

The 2017 BMW South African Open was another highly visible sign of the pinnacle of international golf achievement meeting the pinnacle of South African golf development.

As the crowds streamed into Glendower Golf Club to see Rory McIlroy, there was also the cause for celebration of five members of the Gary Player Class of 2017 qualifying for the championship.

“This programme has the infrastructure to make it work. It’s about levelling the playing field in all respects, not just in a golf sense, to allow these players the same opportunity other professionals have to go out there and compete on an equal footing,” says Nathan.