by Hannes Wessels
Following a rich tradition Brendon de Jonge is the latest Zimbabwean to flirt with greatness on the fairways of the golf-world. With Nick Price, Tony Johnstone and Mark McNulty in support roles he’s edging closer.
Born in 1980 just as Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, it all started aged seven at Wingate Golf Club playing with his father Rick and brother Richard. Roger Baylis stepped in as a coach who would help enormously and a miniature course was built at home in Mount Pleasant for him to work on his short game.
“At school I remember I wrote an essay on Tiger woods which went down well with my English teacher. I guess I was already thinking about a future as a professional golfer then,” says Brendon.
“I also enjoyed my rugby and was playing well when aged 15 my dad suggested I stop before I got injured. I played Zimbabwe Schools cricket as a batsman and was looking at the possibility of playing professional cricket. Along the way I competed against chaps who have gone to the top like Kevin Pietersen, Justin Kemp and Morne van Wyk.
“It was in my second last year at school my golf really came on well playing a lot with Bruce MacDonald, Jason Jackson and Barry Launder. I found myself in a dilemma as to whether to play cricket or golf. The selectors told me I was in with a good chance of playing Test cricket which was very tempting. In fact when I was 17 Andy Pycroft who was then the Zimbabwe Cricket Development coach and later a selector drove out to our house one day to try to persuade my parents to encourage me to play professional cricket. They listened carefully but my father basically told him my mind was made up and I was going to give golf a go. I had to think really long and hard about it and I think longevity in golf was probably the deciding factor for me.”
It soon looked like he had made the right call. “In 1999 I won the Zimbabwe Amateur by 14 shots beating Nick’s record which was quite a big achievement for me. The following year I represented Zimbabwe in the World Team Amateur Championships. In 2000 I represented Zimbabwe in the Eisenhower played that year in Berlin.”
Spotted by Jay Hardwick, the golf coach at Virginia Tech University he was offered a 100% scholarship and the American door was wide open.
“I did four years at College, acquired my degree in Financial Management then made it to Qualifying School in 2003,” says Brendon.” The first two years of College I probably drank too much beer and got myself quite a reputation for consuming large quantities at speed but in my senior cycle I knuckled down and took it all a lot more seriously. College days I played a lot with Brandt Snedeker and Kevin Stadler and we have remained good friends.
“In 2004 I battled a little on the Nation Wide but towards the end I came through and made just enough money to get me into the top 100 and through to the following year. End of 2006 I made it to ‘Q’ School and finally got my card.
“In 2007 I started well and then missed a long series of cuts so it was a mixed year and I finished about 156th on the money list meaning I lost my spot on the main tour. In 2008, I managed to win, finished second on the money list and was voted Player of the Year before getting myself reinstated.
“A memorable event back on the main tour was at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo where I shot 80 in the first round. I did not make a solitary birdie and was lying last out of 155 players. That night I was pretty despondent but knew I had to pick myself up. Then the second round I went mad and tied the course record with a 62 for an 18 shot improvement. I missed a 19 foot putt on the 18th to break the course record set by Rory McIlroy.
“In 2012 I had a great year making over $2 million and finished fourth in Malaysia which was nice for me to do well outside of the US. In 2013 I made it into the top-10 four times and into all four of the FedEx Cup Playoff tournaments finishing within the top 20 in each one. It’s a lot about finding your comfort level and in 2013 I think I managed that. I also made the most birdies on the tour that year but alas no win.
“Being a Captain’s Pick for the President’s Cup in October came as a huge and welcome surprise. It was a fabulous experience, made even better by having Nick as the captain and Mark and Tony the vice-captains. Being Nick’s pick was an extra special occasion for me. I was 16 when I first met him at the Zimbabwe Open when he used to come back every year to play. It was a special moment because he had always been someone to follow. We stayed in touch after that and he has always been a big help and source of inspiration.
“In 2014 at the McGladery Classic I thought I might finally bag my first victory on the PGA Tour but Robert Streb who had struggled to make the cut came on very strong on the last day.
“I started the final round with three birdies and then two more on the 10th and 12th. On the 15th I missed a ten-footer for birdie on the par-5 after not getting close enough with an easy bunker shot and a 20 footer on the last hole just slipped by. Still I carded a 65 which I thought was good enough but Bob shot 63 and we had a three-way playoff with Will MacKenzie. Will dropped a shot on the first playoff hole to fall out then on the par-3 17th Bob hit it stiff with an 8-iron that never left the flag and sunk the putt after I missed mine. Disappointing, but Bob just hit the right shot at the right time and I guess I will have to wait a while longer for my win.”
“It’s a hurdle he’ll accomplish,” says his friend Brandt Snedeker. “He has a big heart, is always fun to be around, and for the most part always is in a good mood. You can’t help but smile when you look at him. He came to this country weighing about 160 and now he goes about 260. He just loves to live life. I know not winning out here eats at him. He’s been close so many times and he kind of gets in his own way and starts thinking too much, putting too much emphasis on having to be perfect to win. Hopefully now he’s starting to realize; he finished sixth shooting 80. I would bet a large amount of money that he will win on the Tour in the next five years. He’s just too good not to.”
“Golf has been unbelievably good to me and so has America. I have made a lot of money, met great people and I get to walk magnificent tracts of real estate for a living. But it is tough. The travel wears you down and I hate being away from my family so much. Playing 30 tournaments a year as I have been doing is a lot of golf and a lot of time on the road.
“I have to get better with the putter. I have been streaky and have sought advice from all over. If I can get on top of that problem I think I will be a stronger contender.”