Rising SA star has credentials to halt the Spieth juggernaut
IN 2010, Branden Grace watched as Louis Oosthuizen lifted the Claret Jug on the Old Course’s famous Swilcan Burnbridge. “I want that,” he thought to himself.
Two years later, he won on the Old Course.
It was not the same trophy. It was the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the last of his impressive five wins that year.
But always a very visual thinker, Grace had painted an image in his mind of a win on the Old Course and a trophy picture on that little stone bridge. And he made it a reality.
You can bet that coming into this week’s Open off the back of his best finish in a major of tied-fourth at the US Open, Grace has a certain Claret Jug movie playing in his head.
And he would be right to do so, because there is nothing to suggest he cannot stop the Jordan Spieth juggernaut and win this major.
For his 2012 triumph, Grace played practice rounds with Oosthuizen who showed him the lines he needs to hit off the tees and approaches he needs to take into greens on a course you cannot believe can be so flat and yet so mercurial.
Like the reason for the invention of bagpipes, it can leave the best golfing minds confused as to what makes it so difficult.
The great Bobby Jones hated it, and the best players in the world have admitted they needed to learn to love the Old Course.
Grace also had to learn to override his penchant for favouring the right side of a golf course.
When he won at St Andrews in 2012, Grace will admit he was not then ready for major championship golf.
But that is not the case three years later.
Grace learns his lessons well and is happy to go through the phases for success.
His performance in the US Open was the culmination of an almost three-year process learning to understand golf in America, and one that knocked him back a few steps in his overall planning.
He arrives at St Andrews with all the memories of what it takes to win on the Old Course, but a vastly more mature player for what is needed to win a major there.
He knows it is not an overtly difficult course, especially in good weather.
And with the weather looking typically Scottish with some wind and rain, he knows the value of being on the good side of the draw and taking advantage of this.
He will also be pleased to see a course that is a little greener than usual, allowing more aggressive approaches into the flags.
Spieth has shown he can win majors on two very different golf courses.
But can a man in such dominant form, with the adrenaline of being in Tiger Woods’s career territory at the moment surging through him, bring about the necessary control he will need this week? The kind of control that will require him to hit shots not for the great result you want and know you have the game for, but rather for the trouble you want to avoid.
Woods said this was something he had never done before until he played the Old Course.
For Grace to get in the way of Spieth’s grand slam charge his putter will need to be a bit hotter than it was at the Scottish Open.
He also brings another element in his favour – caddie Zach Rasego.
Rasego won the Open with Oosthuizen and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with Grace.
This particular week is a very big opportunity for Grace.