Former European Tour Winner Anton Haig Continues Improbable Comeback with Win at eGolf Tour’s Championship at Star Fort
By Stewart Moore
Ninety Six, SC – Former European Tour winner Anton Haig of Nelspruit, South Africa, starting a long trip back to professional golf from a debilitating neck injury, came from behind to win the eGolf Tour’s inaugural Championship at Star Fort on Friday, posting a final-round 65 to notch a two-shot victory over Jonathan Fricke of Covington, GA.
The Championship at Star Fort was the 19th event of the 2012 eGolf Tour season and was contested this week at The Golf Club at Star Fort in Ninety-Six, SC.
Entering Friday’s final round of the 54-hole event, Haig was trailing 36-hole leader Harold Varner III by two shots after opening his week with rounds of 68-66—134 (10-under par).
An eagle at the par-5 second allowed the long-hitting South African to vault to 12-under par, at the time just one shot off the lead. The early eagle, however, gave way to a five-hole stretch played at 1-over par courtesy of a bogey at the par-4 sixth.
Beginning with a birdie at the reachable par-5 eighth, Haig ripped off four consecutive birdies to catapult into sole possession of the lead at 15-under, at the time one shot clear of the field.
“I had a great group out there today, and it felt as if we were all making birdies on each hole,” said Haig, 26. “Everyone was real supportive of each other, so I kind of got lost in it all when it started happening – birdies were flying everywhere. I think there were two holes all day that we didn’t birdie.”
Fricke, one of Haig’s playing partners alongside Henrik Norlander of Sweden, quietly made his way up the final-round leaderboard thanks to birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 that allowed him to turn at 3-under for the day and 12-under for the week.
A Fricke birdie at the par-5 11th matched the one made by Haig, and when he added yet another at the par-3 12th, the former Georgia State golfer was within one shot of the lead.
At the par-4 13th, Haig failed to get up and down and suffered his second bogey of the day, in turn falling to 14-under and in a tie for the lead with Fricke. However, the imposing Johannesburg native bounced back with a birdie on the next hole to reclaim the lead, and further kept the lead at 15-under when the two posted matching birdies at the par-5 15th.
Up-and-downs from different greenside bunkers at the par-3 16th took both Haig and Fricke to the downhill par-4 17th, where the tournament victor’s day was solidified.
“I tried to hit a low wedge in there and it never really took, skipping to the back of the green,” said Haig. “I had about 15 feet from the fringe, and had been putting well all week, and it was just a perfect look at the hole. I said ‘Let’s trust it,’ and in it went.”
Haig’s unlikely birdie from above the hole pushed his tally to 17-under, then two clear of Fricke, who missed a 14-foot birdie try at 17 to stay within one heading to the last.
At the dogleg-right par-4 18th, Haig pulled a hybrid into the left trees, but pitched out to 30 yards short of the green to set up what would hopefully be a winning par.
The calm and cool South African, who had turned heads with his distance off the tee throughout the week, won the tournament with his short game – hitting a flawless pitch shot to 3 feet at the last to set up a short par putt, which he converted for his first eGolf Tour title, and the event’s $13,000 first-place prize.
“I wasn’t expecting much when I came out here this week,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of hard work with my coach, and I’m glad to see it paid off. I have sacrificed a lot of things – time away from friends and family – to make this dream happen, so it’s good to see that I’m coming back somewhat.”
In March of 2007, as a talented up-and-coming 20-year-old, Haig shocked the golf world when he posted rounds of 71-64-70-70—275 to win the European Tour’s Johnnie Walker Classic in a playoff, bettering the likes of fellow countrymen Ernie Els and Retief Goosen during the event’s regulation play. The victory gave Haig his European Tour card, and propelled him inside the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings.
But with the win came expectations and pressure. The wonderful South Africans always pull for their own, and it seemed as if Haig’s win had been a sign of things to come for those hoping for the next great 20-something to lead the Springbok’s next charge onto the world stage. Haig, in his own words, fell victim to some of the pressures that accompany stardom, especially at such a young age.
“It was tough on me at that time. The spotlight and the media took a while to get used to, and I was a young kid, so I certainly enjoyed certain aspects of the fame that you would at that age,” said an honest Haig after the round. “People would say, ‘You have so much talent, you should be winning more.’ After that, I started losing my love for the game.”
A bulging disc in his neck that developed shortly thereafter hurt Haig’s ascension through the golf ranks. A devout fan of the fitness trailer, he felt as if he had bulked up too much and in turn put too much pressure on his upper body. After a poor 2009 season, Haig lost his European Tour card and had to regain it at Q-School that fall. He earned it for the 2010 year, but struggled again and fell into the “bowels” of the game, as he put it.
In November of 2011, Haig announced his retirement from the game of golf, citing the neck injury that never seemed to improve, as well as his loss of love for the sport that had delivered him to the highs of life. But earlier this year, a meeting with his manager Philip Manduca convinced him to give it one more try.
“My manager found me at the lowest point of my life and said, ‘Come on, I want to get you back to the top,’” said Haig. “He has been an inspiration to me to help me get back to where I am now. I owe a lot to my team, and I’m so happy to be back and contending again.”
Haig will play again on the eGolf Tour next week, and from there will travel overseas to both Scotland and Dubai to compete, before venturing back to European Tour Q-School to hopefully reclaim his spot amongst the game’s greats.
“It feels great to win again, it really does.”
For Fricke, who pared the 18th to post 15-under 201, the runner-up marked his best finish on the eGolf Tour since a runner-up effort the 2011 Grand Harbor Open – an event contested at both Star Fort and the nearby Patriot Golf Club. He earned $7,780 for his finish, in turn moving up to No. 56 on the tour’s money list with $15,298 in earnings in just nine starts on the year.
As a member of the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour in 2008 and 2009, Fricke collected two top-10 finishes, including a near-win at the 2008 Xerox Classic that left him at T3 on the week. Since losing his Web.com Tour card at the conclusion of the 2009 season, the easy-going Fricke has split time between the eGolf Tour and various Monday qualifiers. In August of this year, he won the 59th annual Georgia Open – one of the more prestigious state opens in the country.
Third place honors went to eGolf Tour leading money winner Drew Weaver of St. Simons Island, GA and Zach Sucher of Birmingham, AL. Weaver, the 2007 British Amateur champion, birdied his final four holes en route to a 7-under 65 and a three-day total of 14-under 202, while Sucher flirted early on with the final-round lead before settling for a 3-under 69 to match Weaver at 14-under. Each player earned $5,000 for their efforts.
The finish was Weaver’s ninth top-5 during a breakout year in which he has claimed two eGolf Tour titles (Willow Creek Open, Southern Open) and amassed an impressive four runner-up finishes. With his win at the Southern Open in July, the 2009 U.S. Walker Cup team member became the fastest player in tour history to eclipse the $100,000 mark in single-season earnings. His current earnings for the year are $115,792.
For Sucher, the T3 marked a career-best on the eGolf Tour, and his second top-10 of the year dating back to the season-opening Palmetto Hall Championship. The former University of Alabama-Birmingham star was a member of the Web.com Tour in 2011, making five cuts in 11 starts and collecting $10,773 in winnings.
· A special thanks goes to Star Fort General Manager Tommy Pendley, Head Golf Professional Zach Calhoun, and their staff for coordinating this event and hosting the tour and our players for the week. Thank you to Star Fort Head Golf Course Superintendent Tom Taylor and his crew for their work on the immaculate course, which featured some of the best greens of the 2012 season. Last but not least, thank you to the members and volunteers at Star Fort for assisting the tour with the tournament.
· The tour will return to the greater Charlotte, NC area next week for the annual Cabarrus Classic, to be conducted at Cabarrus Country Club in Concord, NC on September 19-21.