Makhetha Mazibuko was sitting in a plane waiting to take off and still doing interviews after his memorable playoff defeat in Sunday’s Eye of Africa PGA Championship. The reality is his feet probably won’t touch ground for a few days still.
The significance of the 29-year-old Free State golfer’s performance in South Africa’s second oldest professional tournament has resonated throughout South African golf.
“It’s a big moment for me. It’s the highest finish for me and gives me a lot of confidence. It was a good result in a good field. I learnt a lot. I just need to focus on my goals and dreams and hopefully, things will work out for me,” he said after making it into a three-way playoff with Erik van Rooyen and Dylan Frittelli and then losing to an incredible birdie by Van Rooyen on the first playoff hole.
Mazibuko is a product of the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB), the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation (EEFF) and most recently the Gary Player Class of 2017. The latter is the Sunshine Tour’s new initiative to select a squad of 30 previously disadvantaged golfers and give them free coaching and access to gym and practice facilities, as well as pay their travel costs to get to tournaments in a bid to ensure they compete on a more level playing field.
The Gary Player Class of 2017 has seen impressive success early in the year, with five of its golfers qualifying for the BMW South African Open and where Mazibuko won his qualifying tournament. Then six members of the squad made the cut in the Eye of Africa PGA Championship.
“I’m a very happy man at the moment,” said Theo Manyama, the CEO of the Gary Player Class of 2017.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been so excited about the future of our game. When we started the squad in November, I told the players that this is a great opportunity for them. In my era we never had this opportunity, so they must make use of it.”
For Sunshine Tour Executive Director Selwyn Nathan, Mazibuko is reflective of the strength of the country’s golf structures in supporting and developing previously disadvantaged golfers. The PGA of South Africa supports this with the continuous input of its registered professionals under its slogan of “Touching lives through the game of golf”, and by its members enhancing the golf experience, creating added enjoyment and increasing participation at golf facilities around the country.
“A player like Makhetha didn’t just arrive out of nowhere. This young man comes out of our SAGDB and the great work done there by Grant Hepburn, and then the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation, so his grounding has been fantastic. Players like him have come through our system and it’s bearing fruit now. I’m delighted for him. He’s got some real confidence now.”
And Mazibuko is looking forward to building on that confidence over the next few weeks on the Sunshine Tour, with his ultimate goal for the year being to try and qualify for the Asian Tour at the end of 2017.
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