7 February 2007
Twenty-year-old South African Anton Haig moved into the top 100 of the official world golf rankings by winning the prestigious Johnnie Walker Classic at the Blue Canyon Country Club in Phuket at the weekend.
His victory saw him join the likes of Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Greg Norman, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo as winners of the event. His impressive performance also captured the attention of many of the game’s top players and commentators, including Sky Sports’ respected Ewen Murray.
Murray says he puts Haig in the John Daly class for driving distance. That’s quite a statement, but it is the kind of statement that will draw golf fans to take a look at the young South African’s game. After all, powering drives way, way down the fairway is the most eye-catching aspect of golf.
European Ryder Cup star Darren Clarke, a regular visitor to South Africa, is equally impressed, if not more so, by Haig. He reckons Haig hits the ball “miles” and has “a great short game”.
A future major winner
In fact, Clarke feels Haig has it all and is a future major winner in the making.
He’s not the only Ryder Cup player to laud the rising star. Both Lee Westwood and David Howell expressed the opinion that Haig will become a top-10 ranked player.
Haig’s win in Phuket, the most prestigious of the four he has so far claimed in his short career, was as much a victory for his parents as it was for his Haig. While he was growing up his father took a job managing a farm so as to raise the funds to send young Anton to amateur tournaments. That kept dad away from home, but today he surely feels the sacrifice was worth it.
Both Haig’s parents were in Thailand to witness him sink the birdie putt that won him the tournament. It also secured him a much sought after European Tour exemption until the end of 2009.
Inspired by Els and Goosen
If Westwood and Howell are correct in their assessments that Haig will become a top-10 player, then he will be venturing into an area currently occupied by Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. The 20-year-old says he draws inspiration from the two South African major winners.
Speaking after his victory at the Blue Canyon Country Club, he told reporters: “Ernie and Retief have been my heroes. They are awesome players and put a bit of ‘oomph’ for me to get to the top. They have great fighting spirit and never give up.”
Growing up, says Haig, he eagerly followed their exploits, taking every opportunity to see them in the flesh when they played in South African events.
Prior to the Johnnie Walker Classic, he had the opportunity to play a practice round with Els and Goosen, “What an experience!” he said. “I had never played with them before.”
Els and Goosen impressed
It appears both the Big Easy and the Goose are equally impressed with Haig. After the Johnnie Walker Classic, Els predicted a big future for him, remarking on his booming drives, which he said are among the biggest in the game.
“He’s very young, 20, and a big guy, even bigger than me. He hits it longer than I do. It’s a matter of getting experience and just playing,” said Els.
Goosen, too, praised Haig’s driving ability, reckoning the young man powers the ball 20 to 30 yards further than he does. Goosen went on to remark that golf today is about length, and said once Haig gets that under control, “he’ll be good”. Coming from a man who is known for understating things, that is high praise.
Goosen also commented on Haig’s positive, friendly approach to golf, noting that it is good for the game. The irony is that Haig described both Els and Goosen as down to earth. Yes, down to earth and brilliant golfers, much the same as he is.
By breaking into the top 100 of the official world golf rankings, Haig became the seventh South African to crack the barrier, behind Els, Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatini and Charl Schwartzel.