Jordan Spieth’s Masters victory and Haydn Porteous’s Barclays Kenya Open triumph on the same Sunday last week may seem worlds apart but South Africa’s Porteous sees it as an example of how fine the line between good and great can be in this game. An eagle on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against good friend Brandon Stone earned Porteous his maiden victory since he turned professional in late 2013 following a glittering amateur career. The link between the victors in Augusta and Nairobi is that in beating Stone, Porteous beat a golfer who only a few years ago was playing college golf for the same Texas Longhorns team Masters champion Spieth had just left.
Porteous says: ‘I think it shows that there is a fine line between being good and great in golf. For me, it’s nice to know that it is that close, but again it’s still very far away.’ While he has had chances to win before this, Porteous admits the victory came sooner than he expected: ‘I had a few good chances last year to get my maiden victory under the belt, but obviously the pro game is tough. I let a couple of tournaments slip. To be honest, this victory came out of the blue because I started the year slow. Still, it did come a lot sooner than I thought it would. People say amateur golf teaches you how to win but the pro circuit is different to anything else. Apart from the money, you’re also playing for exemptions into tournaments and an exemption for the tour – so there’s a lot at stake.’ The Kenya Open has an illustrious history, including victories by Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam.
It also has been known to spark the careers of young South African professionals. Masters champion Trevor Immelman won the tournament in 2000 for his first victory as a professional. In 2014, Jake Roos’s victory in this event helped him earn a European Tour card for 2015.
As South Africa’s top-ranked amateur before he turned professional, much was always expected of Porteous. He was keenly aware of this. In fact when he decided to turn professional he is on record having said: ‘I don’t know exactly where I stand in the pro game, and there’s the constant battle to prove to the golf world that I can play.’
Celebrated South African teaching professional Gavan Levenson, who honed Porteous’s swing early in his career as well as those of Charl Schwartzel and Ashleigh Simon, certainly had no doubts. Levenson says: ‘I think he’s definitely got it to become something. Haydn is capable of shooting very low scores, and you need to be able to do this in the modern game.’ With a win under the belt, Porteous is now focused on gaining his European Tour card by the end of this season.
He says: ‘Being number one on the European Challenge Tour Order of Merit after only one tournament means I’m in a good position to come top 15 at the end of the season and get my European Tour card. At the end of the day I want to be playing the Majors, and I’ve got to figure out the best possible way to get there. This win opens that door to the European Tour for me. But hopefully this also helps with sponsorship. It’s tough on all South African golfers to balance the money with travel and then still perform on the course. So this win definitely helps a lot. But I’ve always gone by the philosophy of expect nothing, take everything.’