November 2011

Player predicts a great future for SAGDB's Grootboom

Riaan Grootboom's remarkable story has caught the imagination of Gary Player

South Africa's Career Slam champion Gary Player is seldom at a loss for words. Yet, after hearing the story of up-and-coming George golfer Riaan Grootboom, the nine time major winner sat in stony silence for two full minutes.

No stranger to hardship as a youngster himself, Player had just listened to the incredibly cruel journey of this young teenager's life and the nine-time Major champion could simply shake his head. Then the 76-year-old looked up, his face broke into a broad smile and he exclaimed: "What a story; what a champion! When you consider how far he has come in three short years, his depth of character and resilience tells me that he can only go one way and that is up."

"This is a guy to watch. He could be our own Tiger Woods."

Although Grootboom only took up golf just three years ago, he plays off a tidy five-handicap and is ranked within the top five of the SAGDB's Southern Cape Regional Squad. But for a chance meeting with SAGDB coach Joseph Booysens, his life could have been very different.

In 2008, Grootboom and his sister had watched in horror as his mother succumbed in their shack during a fire that swept through the Borchards township in George. The siblings were taken in by their elderly grandmother, but with no counselling or support, it wasn't long before he turned into a full blown rebel. In and out of trouble with authority, Grootboom was destined for trouble. Then he met Booysens.

"I conducted a testing session at Parkdene Primary School to identify potential players that could join the SAGDB programme," explained Booysens. "Riaan just pitched up with the rest of his class mates because the teachers forced him to participate, but he showed very little interest at first."

"But he was hooked from the moment he picked up a golf club and that first shot flew across the rugby field. I spotted his talent immediately, but it took some coaxing to convince him to give golf a try."

Booysens' patience and perseverance paid off.

"I first coached him at the rugby fields at Parkdene Primary School, but soon moved him across to Three Chameleons," Booysens explained. Just 10 years old at the time, Grootboom had the measure of the mashie course on the outskirts of George within months and within a year of first picking up a golf club, he joined the more advanced students at George Golf Club.

"Riaan is a natural golfer with a very uncomplicated, easy swing. He reminds me so much of Ernie Els, back when he was still winning Majors. I don't doubt it that he will have a future in this game."

Three years on and Grootboom continues to impress.

In August, he finished eighth overall in the individual rankings at the 2011 Boland Under-13 Inter-Provincial tournament and was the mainstay for the Southern Cape U-13 side that finished third in the 45-hole tournament.

As one of the top five in the SAGDB Southern Cape Regional squad, Grootboom was selected for specialised coaching at KeNako Academy in George alongside Brandon Oliphant, Jonugan Olifant, Robin Meyer and Franklin Manchest. Here, too, he excels. "KeNako has a specialised programme that concentrates on the mental, physical and emotional aspects of the game," explained SAGDB Southern Cape regional manager, Johan Erasmus.

"Riaan and the others have been working with Jan Fourie in a physical training programme. All five golfers have shown improvement, but in Riaan's case, he has really come in leaps and bounds."

Grootboom's resolve to continue his golfing career recently received a huge boost when he recorded by his best score yet, a 76, and his first hole-in-one in the same tournament. "Golf has given me a reason to live," says the 13-year-old. "Who knows what would have happened to me otherwise. God gave me a talent and the SAGDB gave me the way to use that talent. I know I was born to play golf and that's why things happened the way they did in my life."

Meanwhile the world's most travelled athlete hopes to make a special trip to George to meet this very special young golfer.

"I hope to make a trip to KeNako in the next few months," said Player. "I hope that when I do, I can meet this phenomenal young man. I would like to spend 10 minutes with him, to give him a little advice and to tell him that I believe he can be the world's number one."