The golf world just keeps getting smaller. Once upon a time, the PGA Tour and European Tour were distant cousins; a few players held dual membership, but most were happy to remain on their home tour. However, in the last two weeks, American fans have watched two European Tour stars notch their first wins on this side of the pond, emphasizing the high level of globalization that exists in today’s game.
The bigger story was Englishman Danny Willett capturing his first major at the Masters, but the RBC Heritage, played this past weekend, may have produced an even better champion. South Africa’s Branden Grace has been one of golf’s most prolific winners over the past few years, and his ability to close the deal has finally carried over to the states.
Grace, 27, burst onto the scene in 2012, winning a trio of low-wattage European Tour events before the month of May. He qualified for that year’s final three majors before picking up two more victories in the fall. At the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he parlayed his opening 60 into a wire-to-wire victory, proving himself as one of the world’s top international players.
After losing a playoff to Phil Mickelson at the 2013 Scottish Open, Grace moved to a career-best No. 26 in the world rankings, but he fell upon hard times soon after. His winning ways left him; he was shut out of the winner’s circle for more than a hundred weeks and sunk as low as 139th in the world.
There’s a saying in golf, however: form is temporary, class is permanent. Grace’s form finally took a turn for the better last winter, and it’s lifted him to new heights. After building his confidence with a win in South Africa, he notched one of the biggest victories of his career at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, and he’s remained at the forefront of the golf world ever since. He found the top five at two majors last year and successfully defended his title in Qatar three months ago, bringing him to within striking distance of the world’s top 10.
Grace hasn’t won as many premier events as some of his peers, but you can’t underestimate what it means to win a golf tournament, especially in this era of parity. Fields feature more international players than ever, and college golf continues to develop finished products at an incredible rate. The result is that hoisting a trophy is harder than ever. The fact that Grace has won as much as he has is remarkable, but it’s even more remarkable that he’s gotten so little publicity for it.
Grace’s winning performance at the RBC Heritage was a fairly typical one for him. He was strong at the beginning and strong at the end, bookending his week with rounds of 66. Entering the final round, he was three strokes behind former world No. 1 Luke Donald, but his complete game—Grace led the field in total strokes gained—allowed him to claim the tartan jacket.
Now with premium status on the PGA Tour, Grace is a player to keep an eye on—his lack of name recognition in the USA notwithstanding.