Nedbank Golf Challenge
It’s not R37m that excites NGC winner Tommy Fleetwood
England’s Tommy Fleetwood had the presence of mind to acknowledge how fortunate modern golfers are to play in an era of largesse after winning the 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge on Sunday.
The likeable man from Southport claimed richest first prize in European Tour history by holing a six-foot par putt on the first play-off hole at the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City to pip Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult to the title.
When the putt dropped Fleetwood punched the air in a gesture of both relief and excitement as he ended a 22-month winless streak on the European Tour.
The $2.5-million (R37-million) first prize is obviously a huge windfall, but for a man who has earned more than $20-million on Tour already, and probably the same again in endorsements, it wasn’t life-changing.
The first prize would have been defining for Kinhult, who prior to the NGC had career earnings of $2.08 million (R32-million). The first prize would have more than doubled his lifetime earnings. The “consolation” prize was $850,000 (R12.76-million) for being the runner-up.
As Fleetwood had a microphone jabbed in his face moments after sinking the winning putt, he told the TV interviewer: “The money’s not that important.” The comment came off as insensitive in a country with 29% unemployment, and when he was interviewed later Fleetwood was able to clarify his remark.
His joy at winning wasn’t about the money, which translated to R513,000 a hole over the four rounds, but about the satisfaction of finishing on top of the leaderboard. It’s a sport where players lose far more than they win.
Fleetwood is considered one of the best players on the Tour, a Ryder Cup star and ranked 18 in the world (that will change when the new rankings are posted this week) but it was only his fifth title in 217 European Tour starts. It underlines how hard winning is at the pinnacle of the sport.
Sunday’s victory at Sun City catapulted him to second on the European Tour’s rankings, called the “Race to Dubai”. Next week’s season-ending tournament takes place in Dubai where the overall winner of the Race to Dubai will earn a $2-million (R30-million) bonus.
“I guess being a golfer in this modern era you have the chance at a young age to set your family up for life,” Fleetwood said.
“But it’s not about the money because nothing compares to holding that trophy up. The money is great, and we are lucky and privileged to have the chance to be playing for that sum, but this tournament has so much history. Being one of the winners of it now, means so much to me.
“Golf is a funny old game and all we want to do is win,” he said. “Everybody strives for the same thing week in, week out and unless you do you’re never satisfied, even finishing second.
“I was struggling with levels of expectation because I wasn’t playing how I thought that I should or achieving the things that I wanted to.
“It’s such a great, great thing and a feeling to be playing with a chance to win the Race to Dubai in the last event. Everybody starts the Tour at the start of the season to get there and to be one of the guys that can actually finish at the top is very special.”
A seven-under 65 powered Fleetwood into the play-off, having started the day six shots behind third-round leader Zander Lombard and five shots behind Louis Oosthuizen and Belgium’s Thomas Detry.
Fleetwood, besides overcoming the largest final-round deficit in 2019, also made three eagles and a birdie on the par-72 layout’s four par-fives in the 36-degree heat. To play those holes in seven-under was a remarkable feat that underlined his accurate driving and red-hot putting in the blistering conditions.
Lombard fell away on the front nine and Oosthuizen’s challenge derailed with a double-bogey at the par-four 11th. Detry waved his tilt at the title goodbye with a double-bogey at the par-three 12th.
Fleetwood, despite his heroics on the par-fives, endured back-to-back bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes, coming off consecutive eagles at the ninth and tenth holes.
An eagle at the 14th, which was a result of a towering five-wood from 220 metres to six feet from the pin, and a birdie on the 15th when the ball took a kind bounce from a sprinkler head, was enough for Fleetwood to post a 12-under score and wait for the others to collapse.
Only the unknown Kinhult withstood the pressure with eight pars and a birdie on the back nine.
In the play-off, on the par-four 18th, Kinhult’s drive hit a tree down the left, meaning he couldn’t go for the green in two. Fleetwood’s drive found the right side of the fairway and from a tricky lie he came up short of the green, leaving himself a difficult chip.
But Fleetwood played a magnificent shot that landed on the fringe of the green and rolled to six feet. Kinhult’s long-rage par-putt from over 20 metres never came close, setting the stage for Fleetwood to become the fourth Englishman to win “Africa’s Major”. DM
-12 Tommy Fleetwood (England) 69 69 73 65 (won play-off)
Marcus Kinhult (Sweden) 69 69 70 68
-8 Thomas Detry (Belgium) 66 71 69 74
Jason Scrivener (Australia) 69 70 71 70
Bernd Wiesberger (Austria) 71 69 70 70
-7 Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) 63 72 71 75
Lee Westwood (England) 68 73 69 71
-6 Zander Lombard (South Africa) 68 65 72 77
Robert MacIntyre (Scotland) 73 76 65 68
-4 Matthew Fitzpatrick (England) 71 69 73 71
Joost Luiten (Netherlands) 72 70 69 73
Kalle Samooja (Finland) 72 71 72 69
-3 Jorge Campillo (Spain) 69 72 74 70
Nacho Elvira (Spain) 70 70 71 74
Tom Lewis (England) 71 73 69 72
Aaron Rai (England) 70 69 71 75