England’s Ross Fisher set a new course record, but it was countryman Tyrrell Hatton who grabbed the headlines after becoming the first person to defend the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday, writes GRANT WINTER at St Andrews.
It was, without a doubt, Hatton’s week – a freaky week actually – as the 25-year-old won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with a record 24-under-par 264 after a 66 on the Old Course, to become the first player in the 17-year history of the tournament to successfully defend the title.
Fisher didn’t do badly either, also establishing a record, a mind-blowing 11-under-par 61 – the lowest 18-hole return in, give or take 600 years of golf here, to take second place on 267.
But the backstory, from a South African point of view, was young professionals Brandon Stone and Haydn Porteous, both two-time winners on the European Tour at 24 and 23 respectively, who admitted, after top 15 finishes, both on 11-under-par 277, that they were living the dream.
‘Any time you come down the 18th on the Old Course in a tournament on a Sunday afternoon at the Home of Golf and cross the Swilken Bridge, knowing you’ve made the cut and playing pretty well is something special,’ said Stone, winner of the 2016 BMW SA Open at Glendower and the 2017 Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, after a closing 68 in this celebration of links golf, also played on the nearby Carnoustie and Kingsbarns courses.
Okay, Stone did three-putt both 17 (for par) and 18 (for birdie) from off the green, albeit a good 60 feet in both instances, but he feels his game is peaking at just the right time ahead of Italy this week and then, following a week off, China, Turkey, the Nedbank Golf Challenge and Dubai as the 2017 European Tour draws to a close.
He is 55th on the 2017 Race to Dubai, so after his solid week here, is a shoo-in for the end-of-season DP World Tour Championship in Dubai from November 15-18. He really feels he belongs, as Porteous does now, on the extremely competitive European Tour.
Porteous made 67 on the Old Course yesterday to get to 11-under-par for the tournament. ‘I’m pretty chuffed because after 28 holes this week after Carnoustie on day one and then 10 holes at Kingsbarns, I was four-over-par for the tournament. So I played the next 44 holes in 15-under, which is pretty satisfying,’ added the 2016 Joburg Open winner, who won this year’s Czech Masters in Prague to seal his second European Tour title.
‘I made six birdies today, including missing a five-foot eagle putt at the par-5 14th where I hit the green in two, so the game is really coming right. This is the first time I’ve made the cut at St Andrews, and it’s a great feeling, and yes, I feel I’m living my dream at this place with so much history where the game’s legends have won, and come and gone.’
Porteous was 71st in the Race to Dubai going into this tournament, but will now move closer to the all-important top 60 who qualify for the DP World Tour Championship.
Stone and Porteous, both extremely talented, and being so young with years ahead of them on tour, certainly look to be the future of South African professional golf. Stone’s 68 yesterday beat the 69 of England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who leads the 2017 Race to Dubai, so that would have been a confidence booster for the South African.
The money in professional golf is bountiful, and both young professionals will bank in the region of R1-million for their performances on Sunday. Hatton’s share of the prize fund translates to about R9-million, so it’s a privilege and a source of considerable wealth these days to be a professional golfer, playing well and making cuts.
Hatton will be smiling today after achieving just that, and Old Tom Morris and the greats of the game from times past will be wondering from the great kinks in the sky how anyone could reduce this grand old lady of a golf course to just 61 strokes, as Fisher did.
Dylan Frittelli, a maiden winner on the European Tour this year in the Nordea Masters, and Christiaan ‘Rambo’ Bezuidenhout, were the next best South Africans on nine-under 279, Frittelli after a 68 and Bezuidenhout after a 67.
Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images