Ewen Murray hails a magnificent victory for Richard Finch and offers some early tips for 2008.
Last Updated: 04/12/07 3:55pm
A few weeks ago, we were talking of the horrible pressure tournament players face when they are at the wrong end of the Order of Merit and time is running out to secure their playing privileges for the following season.
In Majorca in October, Hull's Richard Finch was on the verge of losing his card and therefore facing at least a year on the Challenge Tour. At best it was a trip to San Roque and the qualifying school, and a struggle to gain one of the cards on offer there.
Christmas looked like it was going to be a bleak one until a top ten finish in his last event granted him a reprieve. Amid the stunning scenery of New Zealand's South Island last week, Richard Finch became a winner.
It goes to show just how fine the line is between success and failure. Richard can now plan his next three seasons, take a rest when he feels like it, and he will be teeing off with some of the top players at the star end of the draws. This Christmas will be a good one, possibly the best in his young life.
I'm pleased for Finch as I am for some of the people that have helped him in these early professional years. The club professional at Hull gave Richard his start in the game. His name is David Jagger. David was a fine tournament player himself and enjoyed significant success on the Safari Tour in the 70's and 80's.
During the last few years, David has suffered illness but has battled back to good health. He was the tour's joker 30 years ago, and some of his and my colleagues will remember one stunt in Italy.
At the notice board in the hotel, the travel operator pinned up schedules about flight times, bus arrivals and departures. David took it upon himself to write his own which went something like this. "Having secured decently-priced air tickets from Alitalia, we no longer need to stop in Milan en route home to London. This good news comes at a cost, and that is we must be ready to leave the hotel at 4.45am in order to catch the direct flight to London at 7.00am. Please make sure your hotel bill is settled the evening before so we have no delays".
At 4.45am, the party of about 30 players assembled with their clubs and cases in the hotel foyer. Only one was missing. David Jagger was fast asleep!
Jagger's travelling companion was one of today's top coaches Peter Cowan. Peter has overseen the coaching of Richard Finch during the past couple of seasons, and I'm sure Richard realises the huge part Peter, and David, have played in his success. I'm chuffed for all of them.
Last week, Sky Sports News paid me a visit at my home in West Sussex. Over the Christmas period, the news team will look at all of our sports and various commentators will gaze into their crystal balls in the hope of predicting what lies ahead. I suggested a couple of players to look out for as well as the obvious talent of Martin Kaymer and Irish sensation, Rory McIlroy.
I picked Alex Noren of Sweden and Ollie Fisher, the 19-year-old from the south east of England. Last week in New Zealand, Alex was tied fourth and Ollie had his second top ten in the last four months. None of this has much relevance at the moment, but I'm telling you because of my guilt at giving you some horrible tips over the last year. In 2008, I can only improve.
I was sad to see the demise of the once captivating Nedbank Challenge at Sun City. Back in the 80s they had Nicklaus and Miller, Seve and Woosnam. The next decade had Singh and Faldo, Langer and Monty, then Woods and Mickelson, among other major winners and champions. This year, to their credit, Els and Goosen supported Sun City again, and two of the games' top young guns, Trevor Immelman, and Justin Rose saved the week with some beautiful golf.
This course, designed by Gary Player deserves better, as do the men who have made this such a wonderful spectacle down the years, Alistair Roper and tournament chairman, Philip Georgias, but sadly they have become victims of an already choked schedule.
Sun City deserves to have a world golf championship, and that is what the Nedbank should become, not a pocket-filling exercise for players at the end of a season. So many turned the invitation down this year, yet there was $200,000 for last place. It is a fabulous test of golf, well supported, brilliantly run, and offers an atmosphere that would be the envy of many. Maybe in the future it will happen. I hope so, because it is the least this unique place deserves.
It's back to the airport this week to begin the journey to the Republic of South Africa where the first stop is Mpumalanga. Leopard Creek golf club hosts the Dunhill event which was won last year by Spain's Alvaro Quiros. This grand course is situated by the borders of the Kruger National Park which is about the size of Wales. This is the domain of Africa's "big five": the leopard, lion, hippo, rhino and buffalo. We will see all of these in our coverage over the four days, along with many other species.
The signature hole of this course designed by Gary Player and Johan Rupert is the 13th, and it is arguably the most scenic hole in golf. From an elevated tee, a stream meanders down the entirety of the left hand side before forming a greenside lake. The green has been raised at a huge cost, because immediately behind it lies the Crocodile River and the magical animal kingdom of the Kruger.
The majestic Bahula game reserve stands proudly on the opposite bank with views north over the park, and the outline of the eastern highlands by the border of Zimbabwe are just about visible on a clear day. Even if you are not an avid golfer, you will enjoy the natural beauty of this land which lies to the east of Johannesburg.
With the big names resting, this is a glorious opportunity for the graduates from both the school and the Challenge Tour to make their mark, just like Quiros did last year. The best of the Sunshine Tour will be keen to keep the trophy at home.
Darren Clarke headlines the field as he tries to get his career back on track and I believe he is close to doing that. A good tournament would do wonders for his confidence. Next week the Sky Sports team head south to Paarl by the wine regions, and the new Jack Nicklaus-designed course there makes its entrance to the tournament scene.
The South African Open is one of the sport's oldest events, and with a top-quality field ready for Jack's challenge, it should be a fitting end to a vintage golfing year across our screens.