As South African Tim Clark defends his Players title this week, I can't help but think about his homeland. Known largely for rugby, cricket and soccer, this country of 49 million and only 1% of the world's golfing population currently holds half of the majors in men's golf. What started with Bobby Locke in the 1940s and Gary Player in the '50s has turned into a phenomenon. Between '49, when Locke won the first of his four British Opens, and Charl Schwartzel's Masters victory last month, South Africans have won 21 majors. What is shocking, though, is that in his first real chance to win a major, Schwartzel played as if he'd already won a bunch, as Louis Oosthuizen did last year and Trevor Immelman did in 2008. Why?
South Africa has great weather and good courses, and that's enough to create a disproportionate number of Tour pros given their population, but that doesn't explain their poise. What these players lacked in tournament seasoning, they made up for through the influence of one man, Ernie Els(above). The Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation seeks out talented players without the means to pursue golf and provides them with instruction, equipment and experience. More than that, however, it's Ernie's involvement in the foundation that infects these young men with an aura of accomplishment and gives them the poise to play great. No other player has had such an impact on the generation of golfers from his country that followed him. Now, if only he could teach Rory Sabbatini that this is a gentleman's game.
Brandel Chamblee is a 15-year PGA Tour vet and analyst for Golf Channel.
FRED VUICH (CHAMBLEE)
DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES (ELS)