august 2020

A month ago, the 10 year anniversary Winter Classic had been in serious doubt due to the Covid-19 pandemic ravaging the country and the world. Wiser and cooler heads had advised that this be a lost year, a dry year in view of the prevailing circumstances. Doubts were expressed and serious questions asked.

But what about club finances, which are not exactly in sparkling condition, what about the dreaded virus? Would we be able to muster even half the members to give this some respect? But despite almost three and a half months lost, the golf crazed, golf starved members would have none of the doubts expressed by the leadership. The founding ethos of the club that says “the club belongs to all of us” was rekindled and a tournament was cobbled together by hook or crook. Members said we will make a plan, and together with a fantastic LOC they rallied to organise three venues that in the end provided some of the sternest test of golf the Winter Classic has ever provided: The inland links of Copperleaf Country Club, unforgiving Silver Lakes, and the watery Eagle Canyon. Accuracy and pinpoint ball-striking would be at a premium.

Members also dipped into their pockets to buttress the flagging finances of the club that had been weakened by the pandemic. A special thank you has to be extended to all the members that came out to play as soon as golf was cleared to restart, as this is an important source of fundraising for the club. Without their heroics the club would be much poorer in more ways than one. From a seemingly bleak outlook a decent looking tournament emerged, with 27, 28 and 29 August 2020 pencilled in for competition. The first Winter Classic to take place in winter proper rolled out, and it proved to be one for the memory banks.

They say form is the best predictor of the outcome in a competition like this, and going into the tournament, the two hottest, tough as teak players were none other than Azwi Khampha and defending champion Sekete Mokgehle. Surely one of them would be involved in the final shakeup to decide the destination of the trophy.

As the morning of 27 August finally arrived, the gods of golf decided to intervene personally in proceedings by throwing a major spanner in the works in the form of a sustained 30 km/h wind, gusting at maybe 10km more. All that practice and careful preparations were suddenly rendered impotent, and prayer as well as other forms of appeal for divine intervention came in for serious consideration. There would be no respite however and the field was literally blown away by the wind, with only 5 players out of 22 posting scores of 30 points or better. There were no surprises however when Azwi and Sekete emerged top of the pile, separated by a single point on 34 and 33 points respectively. Past Masters champion Steve Mkhawane showed his mettle as well, staying hot on the heels of the two with 32 points.

As the hopefuls arrived at tough at teak Silver Lakes country club the following day, that same north wind was still blowing, thus putting on an additional layer of brutality to the layout. Out of the 21 that ventured out on the day, still only five managed to get into the 30s in terms of points. A new pretender to the throne had emerged in the form of the big-hitting Moagi Mahapa, topping the day’s charts on a peerless 35 points. Sekete followed with a silky 33 points, turning the tables on Azwi this time, who had managed to stay in the hunt with his own 32 points. Entering the fray as well this time was another hard hitter in the form of Avhashoni Ramikosi, probably stepping into this hallowed territory for the very first time. This meant that Azwi and Sekete were absolutely tied on top of the leaderboard on 66 points and the following day would be a straight shootout between the two. Or could Moagi, Avhashoni, or Steve steal the show? The announced deadlock breaking rules of the tournament favoured Azwi if none of them improved their previous scores, due to his day 1 win. A test of nerves and attrition lay in wait.

ReMmoho had not played Eagle Canyon in years, just like Silver Lakes, and the views of water water everywhere you look around this golf course would have done nothing to improve the players mood after the stern examination at Silver Lakes. The weather was set fair with little wind this time, and the 10 year Winter Classic lay on the line. The first score of any consequence to go up the board was from the brilliant but erratic Sydney Mhlarhi on a superlative 37 points, in the process displacing a few fancied exponents on a combined score of 63 points. Tlou Raselomane and Bheki Mthethwa who could only play the one round of the tournament came in on 35 and 34 points respectively. Oupa Ramaswiela punched in his card for a crafty 33 points as well, and this tied the combined 63 points of Syd Mhlarhi.

All eyes were now on the final 4-ball as they strode to the 18th hole tee-box, after a titanic struggle that saw the lead change hands at least three times between Azwi and Moagi. Avhashoni and Sekete had long been unable to withstand the relentless pressure brought about by the two titans and were rendered mere spectators to a fight for the ages. Azwi had led the charge on the first nine, putting together a faultless 19 points under the pump. A shell shocked Moagi managed to gather his courage towards the conclusion of the 1st nine, responding with a matter of fact 16 points. He is not faint of heart when a golf ball rolls in front of him as those who know him will attest. He then mounted an all or nothing assault from the 10th hole, and by the time the 16th tee-box loomed he had taken a two point lead not only on Azwi but on the tournament itself.  A disastrous blowout on the 16th hole for Moagi then saw a 3-shot swing that brought Azwi to the fore once more by one point as he made par. Azwi’s par on hole 17 gave him maximum points whilst Moagi’s one was only worth two points. Azwi had secured an outright lead for the tournament by a point.

As they stood on the final tee-box, Azwi now stood on 33 points, which added together with his 34 from Copperleaf, trumped Sekete’s combined by one point on the overall leaderboard on 67 points. But Moagi was on a gritty 31 points and this placed him in joint 2nd place on 66 points with Sekete. As nerves started to take hold, there were no surprises at all when Azwi’s tee shot faded viciously into the high stuff on the right hand side of the fairway. As per usual Moagi was undaunted, and he went on to take a nerveless slap on a Pro- v, far and straight down the narrow par 5 fairway. Needing just a point to tie Azwi’s overall lead and take the title, the result was surely already baked in the cake, and one would have had to be committed if they looked anywhere past Moagi. A line of red stakes allowed Azwi to take his bitter medicine and then play sideways, from where he eventually landed in the greenside bunker and proceeded to perish. Moagi’s adrenaline then spiked to a lifetime high as he smelled blood amidst the carnage, with the green a mere 185 metres away. Does he lay up and arrive on the green in regulation, securing an easy victory or does he storm in in two just like those heroes out of books or on the PGA tour? Decisions, decisions. The decision was made: to go for it in two over the mountain.

“O judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts; and men have lost their reason!” Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  Here are the shots that followed: cold top to the base of the mountain, piper shank into the mountain, unplayable, drop, chip onto green and death…

Trimph and defeat; hope and despair. Always side by side, but never friends.

 

The record books will show that Moagi tied for joint 2nd place, shading out Sekete on a count-out.

Happy anniversary.