Johannesburg – Jaco van Zyl shoved a gorilla off his back when he broke into the top 50 in the official world golf rankings with his third PGA Championship triumph on Sunday.
The 37-year-old Dainfern golfer moved to 49th spot courtesy when he defeated Chase to Investec Cup leader Dean Burmester at the first extra hole of a sudden-death play-off at the Eye of Africa Golf Estate for his 14th Sunshine Tour victory.
Having lost out on podium finishes in Morocco, the French Open, the Turkish Open and the Nedbank Golf Challenge last year, Van Zyl finally realised a 14 month goal.
“With that top 50 ranking comes with passage into all four Majors,” smiled the Lumenrock Sports Management International player.
“After so many close calls last year, and even in the Dimension Data Pro-Am last week, you start to wonder if it’s ever going to happen again, but I started the week feeling incredibly positive. I played four unbelievable rounds and I can’t describe to anyone what this moment feels like.
“My biggest goal was to try and make the top 50 early in the season to qualify for all four Majors, so this victory has ticked a couple of huge boxes. The real work starts now, though, because I need to keep myself in the top 50.”
Van Zyl made the field for this week’s Cadillac Championship at Doral, but elected to skip the first World Golf Championship event in favour of another stab at the Chase to the Investec Cup from 9-12 March.
He vaulted to seventh in the season-long points race courtesy of his victory on Sunday and his solid record in the limited field event will see him start the season-final at Millvale Private Retreat as one of the favourites.
Van Zyl captured the inaugural championship in 2013, took third in 2014, but lost the title fight to Lumenrock stable-mate Jaco Ahlers at the third extra hole of a play-off last year.
“The plan was always to play Investec and then the World Golf Championship – Dell Match Play in Texas, if I qualified,” he said. “This victory puts me in the field for the Match Play, so that’s a huge incentive later in March. But first I’m going to see if I can have my revenge at Millvale.”
Van Zyl played faultless golf with rounds of 68, 67 and 66 at the Eye of Africa Golf Estate to give himself a shot at a third title. He closed with a five under 67 in regulation play to tie Burmester on 20-under-par 268 and made par in the play-off to claim his hat-trick.
“The PGA Championship and the South African Open Championship are the two biggest titles in South Africa and it’s wonderful to have won this one for a third time,” said Van Zyl.
“It is such a privilege to have my name on the trophy alongside some of the great golfing names that are there already.”
The prestigious title and trophy came with a title deed to a R1.9-million stand on the Eye of Africa Golf Estate, sponsored by owner David Nagle, but Van Zyl made good on a promise he made to his caddie Jason ‘Pup” Reynolds at the start of the championship.
“At the beginning of the week, I told Pup that I would give him the stand,” said Van Zyl. “The victory was more than enough for me.”