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Garrick Higgo, the latest South African on the rise

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Justin Thomas does not have many common video games lined up throughout his uncommon appearances on the European Tour, so he was very happy to play a nine-hole observe spherical this 12 months in Abu Dhabi with a 21-year-old from South Africa.

It did not take lengthy for him to pay shut consideration to a robust lefty named Garrick Higgo.

“He had some serious, serious speed,” Thomas mentioned Tuesday at the PGA Championship. “There’s a lot of holes out there that didn’t ask for that kind of speed, more of just finesse and hitting to the dogleg. But we got a couple of par 5s that he could let loose, and it was definitely a different sound than my ball made.”

The outcomes are value noticing, too.

Higgo, who turned 22 final week, makes his main championship debut at Kiawah Island as an rising star who has grown accustomed to profitable.

He arrived at the PGA Championship having gained twice in his final three begins on the European Tour, each in the Canary Islands. The most up-to-date was noteworthy for his hole-in-one in the last spherical, and for claiming his third European Tour title in simply 26 begins. No one has gained that a lot that rapidly in Europe relationship to 1990.

“It’s not that I didn’t expect this. I knew my game was good enough,” Higgo mentioned. “But I don’t ‘expect’ to win. I think that makes it better in a way.”

The Ocean Course at Kiawah may be intimidating, particularly in wind so robust the previous two days that even massive hitters are rediscovering that 3-irons can nonetheless be required on par 4s.

The subject is the strongest for any main, with 99 of the high 100 in the world. That may be intimidating for a newcomer, besides that Higgo is considered one of them and seems like considered one of them. Three titles in Europe in the previous eight months have moved him to No. 51 in the world.

“It feels nice,” Higgo mentioned. “I don’t feel that I’m out of place.”

For such an auspicious begin to his professional profession — two victories on varied excursions in every of the three years he has been a professional — it wasn’t at all times that easy.

The expertise was at all times there. He beat Cole Hammer in the spherical of 16 at the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2017 earlier than dropping on the seventeenth gap of the semifinals to Matthew Wolff.

He obtained the consideration of UNLV, however he lasted solely two semesters earlier than returning house.

“I didn’t play that well,” he mentioned with a mushy smile. “I knew if I was at home, I knew where I could get my game. And I wasn’t going to get there at UNLV. I don’t mean it that way. I loved it there. I just don’t think it was the right fit for me.”

He nonetheless has a UNLV cowl on his yardage ebook. He appears to be like ahead to going again at some point. “They were building this massive stadium when I was there,” he mentioned, unaware it was the new NFL house for the Raiders.

The curious resolution when he returned to South Africa was that he determined to show professional.

Higgo wasn’t amongst the high 100 in the world newbie rating. He wasn’t profitable newbie occasions. But he did not lack for self-belief, or for onerous work with longtime coach Cliff Barnard, and it did not take lengthy to show he made the proper transfer.

He gained in his debut on the Big Easy Tour, a developmental circuit in South Africa. In his subsequent begin, he captured his first Sunshine Tour victory. He gained one other Sunshine Tour occasion proper earlier than the pandemic shut down golf, and gained 3 times in Europe when it resumed.

Motivation has come from Gary Player, a connection rooted in unhappiness.

Higgo was 9 when his total household — dad and mom, one older brother, one youthful sister — was struck by one other automotive. His father was killed in the accident.

“I was really young. I can’t remember much,” Higgo mentioned. “That was tough, but it changed me for the better.”

What he nonetheless remembers is a letter from Player, who wrote that his mom had died when he was about Higgo’s age.

“He’s been such a support since then and has sent me a lot of letters throughout the years, or called me at times to help,” Higgo mentioned. “He’s been incredibly nice to me, and we’ve played a few times since then, and I feel very lucky for that.”

Player celebrated Higgo’s first European Tour win with a tweet that predicted the begin of extra success to observe.

Higgo is a part of a burgeoning group of South Africans. He is amongst 11 in the subject at Kiawah Island. South Africa hasn’t had greater than eight gamers at the PGA Championship in the final 5 years, and there have been solely three in the subject 20 years in the past.

Higgo noticed the Augusta National brand on a face protecting, smiled and mentioned, “That’s a proper mask.” At this price, he’s headed in that path. The subsequent cease will probably be the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and most certainly the British Open at Royal St. George’s.

The fields he beat in Europe weren’t robust, and he nonetheless has a lot to show.

But it is a begin, and a powerful one at that.


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