Ironically, both of what proved to be the decisive moments in the final round of the Joburg Open on Sunday were shots that flew too far.
Three days after hitting the drive that echoed around the world of golf—a 439-yard bomb off the tee at the 597-yard par-5 fourth hole on the Randpark course during the opening round of the European Tour event—Wilco Nienaber arrived on the penultimate tee tied for the lead with Joachim B. Hansen. Unfortunately for Nienaber, a 20-year-old South African, that was as good as things would get. His tee shot on the 223-yard par-3 17th finished inches from the water that runs behind and left of the putting surface. A bogey, his first of the day, was the almost inevitable result from the awkward spot, the dropped shot putting Hansen one shot clear.
Perhaps fueled by adrenaline, Nienaber—statistically the longest hitter on tour with a driving average of 336.81 yards—found a fairway bunker with an iron off the 18th tee. Unable to reach the green in regulation at the 507-yard par 4, he again failed to match Hansen’s up-and-down par. Thus, the winning margin was two shots for Hansen, a 30-year-old Dane as he earned his maiden European Tour victory with a closing 67 and a 19-under-par 265 total.
For the record, another South African, Shaun Norris was third, three shots behind the new champion, with former Scottish and South African Open champion Brandon Stone among a three-strong group in fourth place.
“This is very emotional for me,” said a tearful Hansen, who had trailed by as many as three shots after Nienaber made three consecutive birdies on the front nine. “This is what I have worked so hard for. Wilco is quite a player. He hits the ball so far and has so many advantages. But I stuck to my game plan. All I could do was keep doing the things I had been doing for the first three days. And that proved to be good enough.”
There was special mention, too, for Hansen’s work on the greens. “I almost never missed a putt inside six feet,” he said at the end of what was only his 10th top-10 finish in 146 European Tour events. “And I holed a lot of long ones too.”
While Hansen’s success is a tribute to his perseverance, what this 19,500,000 ZAR event (approximately $1,271,886) will be most remembered for is that tee shot Nienaber hit on Thursday.
The former South African amateur champion’s gargantuan blast, one that finished almost exactly 99 yards past Bryson DeChambeau’s average tee shot on the PGA Tour, does, however, come with an asterisk. Sitting on the eastern plateau of South Africa known as the Highveld, Johannesburg is 5,751 feet above sea level, the thin air a hugely contributing factor in how far every shot travels.