South African, who has won 3 times on European Tour, impresses his mates at Kiawah Island, even if he has to pay for the privilege
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Tuesday at Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course was a typical for many of this week’s PGA Championship contestants. They hit balls on the driving range, practiced putting on the slick Paspalum greens and then played nine or perhaps 18 holes at Pete Dye’s diabolical masterpiece along the Atlantic Ocean.
A normal day for many of the players, but not for Garrick Higgo.
For the 22-year-old South African, Tuesday proved to be much bigger than a routine day before a golf tournament. It was more of a day of firsts. The 103rd PGA is his first major-championship appearance, and an early-week practice session represented his first round with major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, both fellow South Africans.
Ranked No. 51 in the world, the left-handed Higgo was invited to the PGA Championship because he had won twice in a recent three-tournament stretch on the European Tour. Higgo has won three times on the European Tour in the past nine months: 2020 Portugal Open before two victories in three weeks in Spain’s Canary Islands, at the Gran Canaria Lopesan Open and the Canary Islands Championship.
“I’ll make a bold statement,” Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, said after only one round with Higgo. “I think he is South Africa’s next major champion. He’s young; he’s really strong; he hits the ball farther than us, and I’d say he’s keeping up with the youth.”
Higgo was asked to play with Oosthuizen and Schwartzel when Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, texted last week with an invitation for a game with fellow South African George Coetzee. When Coetzee awoke early because of jet lag, he decided to stay up and play an early practice round, making Dean Burmester, a fellow South African and a recent winner of the European Tour’s Tenerife Open, the fourth man in the group and Higgo’s partner.
When they got to the first tee, Burmester let a little something slip about Higgo.
“Dean said, ‘Garrick hasn’t won a social game yet’,” Oosthuizen said with a smile. “He’s losing all the social games, but then on Sunday he wins.”
Over the 18 holes, Higgo said he got a lot of good tips from Schwartzel, including how to play shots around the greens. More importantly, the advice about career and how to go about being a professional will pay bigger dividends during his career.
“I know from experience that when you’re that good, everybody wants to give you advice, and it’s not a bad thing,” Schwartzel said of his discussion with Higgo. “It’s fine; you must listen to it. But at the end of the day, he’s the one that’s got the talent, and he’s the one that knows how to use it. He’s won, and he’s got to do it his way.”
In his first-ever news conference Wednesday, Higgo clearly was poised and seemed to have his head firmly on his shoulders, which Oosthuizen and Schwartzel noticed from their round with him.
Born in Johannesburg, Higgo decided at an early age to forgo cricket and rugby for golf. He utilized the South African national golf system, which has been supported by Ernie Els, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel.
In his teen years, Higgo traveled all over the world playing amateur golf, including the British Amateur and U.S. Amateur, before heading to UNLV for college golf. He turned professional in 2019 after two years.
“Golf RSA has done a good job in South Africa with their events and bringing us over to Europe, and obviously the guys that decided on their own to come to the U.S. and pursued golf this side, that's a brave move,” Higgo said about the 11 South African in the field this week. “I just think all the South Africans love golf, and we love winning and we love to compete. So, I think that's a strength we all share.”
Oosthuizen and Schwartzel defeated Higgo and Burmester, 5 and 3, keeping Higgo’s record intact.
“We won the game, won the second press and the third press,” Schwartzel said with a laugh. “I said to them, Welcome to America.”
Still laughing, Schwartzel added, “You’ve got to use the banter while you can, because they are going to be good players.”
And the information Schwartzel learned from the first tee about Higgo? “Now that I know that information, I’m going to play him every Tuesday.”
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