In the 40 editions of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, there are a select few golfers who have crept into the hearts of Sun City golf fans. Similarly, this tournament has found a special place in their hearts as well. Tommy Fleetwood is one of those.
The Englishman grew up watching “Africa’s Major” on TV with his dad. In 2019 he realised a dream when he won it. On Sunday, he joined a rare club of the world’s greatest golfers to have successfully defended his title.
In a tense final round played against the backdrop of a gathering storm and a weather-delay, and with the leaderboard packed tighter than a waterhole at dusk in the neighbouring Pilanesberg National Park, Fleetwood’s chip-in for eagle on the par-five 14th proved decisive as he went on to win by a single shot on 11 under par with a final round of 67.
What it meant was written all over Fleetwood’s face as he burst into tears on the 18th. What it means in the history of this tournament is a place alongside Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Nick Price, David Frost, Jim Furyk and Lee Westwood as the players to have defended their title at the Gary Player Country Club.
“I already have so many amazing memories from this place and feel like I have a great connection so this has just added to that,” said Fleetwood, who on Wednesday battled through the pro-am because he was so ill and almost didn’t tee it up on Thursday.
“It was touch-and-go Thursday morning, and then again on Saturday where we woke up early to finish the second round. I didn’t sleep well and felt like I had nothing in me at all. The doctor at Sun City was amazing. I gave his son my winning golf ball because without him there was not a chance for me. I was just thinking if I can keep going one hole at a time, you never know what the weather is going to do and if we’ll get four rounds in. And I’m glad I made that decision.”
New Zealander Ryan Fox was tied for the lead with Fleetwood playing the 18th but bogeyed the last to finish second on 10 under with a closing 68. Christiaan Bezuidenhout finished as the leading South African on seven under par with a final round of 72.
But this week was all about the 40th celebration of a very special golf tournament, and it delivered a winner with a very special connection to it.
“You know, it meant so much to have my name on the ninth walkway where they put down the bronze plaques with all the previous winners and some of the greatest players of all time. This week I sent a video of that walkway to my dad who is back home because we had always said how great would it be to put my name down there. I showed him it, and he immediately texted back saying, ‘Let’s put down a second one’,” said Fleetwood.