A week after capturing his first European Tour title, 23-year-old Branden Grace beat two of his boyhood heroes in a play-off for the Volvo Golf Champions title at The Links at Fancourt.
Grace, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen had finished tied for the lead on a 12-under-par 280 total. The local hero birdied the first playoff hole – the par-five 18th – to claim his second consecutive victory on the European Tour.
“It’s awesome. It’s been amazing, and it’s great to sit here again as I did at the Joburg Open,” said Grace, who had the chance to win this ‘tournament of champions’ during regulation play, but missed the three-foot putt for birdie at the 18th that would have secured him victory. “You know you’ve got a three-footer and if you make it you’re a hero. I didn’t think I hit a bad putt, to be honest. But the confidence from my first win played an important role. “I read some articles before the final round and saw that there were seven players with 13 Majors chasing me. That was a big field behind me, so I just stuck to what I was doing. It’s been a dream to play here and to win a tournament of the calibre of the Volvo Golf Champions.”
It was a victory made all that more memorable considering Grace had initially been asked to play as a marker in the 35-man field, before his victory in the Joburg Open saw him qualify automatically for the champions’ only tournament. “I guess I would’ve definitely come in any case. But fortunately I won and got myself in, and managed to finish it in the end,” said Grace.
It was a thrilling final round in which the lead changed several times. Els set the mark in the clubhouse at 12-under-par with a sublime round of 67, including a birdie at the last. Goosen birdied three of the final four holes to also finish on 12-under with a 70. That left Grace and Nicolas Colsaerts out on the course. Both arrived on the 18th, also on 12-under-par. Colsaerts hit a wayward drive and eventually missed a four-foot putt for par to stay in the playoff, instead finishing on 11-under with a 72.
Grace may have missed the chance to claim victory on the 72nd hole, but made no mistakes in the playoff. “It was unbelievable to stand on the tee with Ernie and Retief. I was very calm though. It’s one of those awesome things to know I’ve beaten two of my idols in a playoff.”
But the golf was certainly not the only draw card during the tournament days.
The Public Village was a very popular stop and the public deck was well supported. With the golf broadcast on the massive screen, spectators enjoyed the opportunity to put their feet up. The Kids Zone, with its track and colourful pedal cars and trucks, was a major hit with parents and toddlers alike, while the Volvo Excavator Challenge drew old and young who tried to sink that winning putt.
The spectators also enjoyed testing the latest equipment on offer at the practice nets and having their swings analysed by the pros while the car enthusiasts didn’t miss the opportunity to test Volvo’s innovative brake technology at the Pedestrian Detection Test Drive.
And, after four exciting days that offered something for everyone, a popular Grace lifted the Volvo Golf Champions trophy to thunderous applause and cheers.