The green jacket that comes with the South African Racing Masters is priceless

If ever there's an example of horses for courses then Augusta National is it.

I love this time of the year. It’s incredible to think that the first couple of months of 2024 are already all but gone. However there is no rest for the wagering wicked, and from a horseracing perspective the outcome of this Saturday’s Splashout Cape Derby will determine which colts from the Cape possess the required stamina and class to step up to 2000 metres and reveal their credentials for a tilt at the KwaZulu-Natal winter season.

So too up north, where the Johannesburg based three-year-olds will soon be called upon to show their true mettle as we progress through the second and third legs of the lucrative Triple Crown and Triple Tiara.

And let me not even get started on the expectations surrounding the thrills and spills of next months Cheltenham Festival.

With so much terrific sport to look forward to it’s not only thoroughbred horseracing that quickens the pulse.

I was for example reminded in the early hours of Monday morning that the global golf scene is about to spring forth with the first Major of the calendar year. Before you can say the words ‘that Green Jacket looks good on you’, the 2024 renewal of The Masters will be upon us and I have already circled the dates of April 11th through to April 14th in my diary.

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The prompt was supplied by former Masters’ winner Hideki Matsuyama who ripped up Riveira by shooting a Sunday 62 to gallop well clear of high quality field and claim the Genesis Invitational.

If you forgive me for borrowing the Creation analogy from Genesis, ‘in the beginning’ of his final round Matsuyama played some stunning shots, this on the back of some recent performances that had been like pre-creation, ‘formless and empty’.

I stayed up to marvel at it all as Hideki delivered light from said darkness, created nine birds of his own and then had a putt to tie the course record. Missing that putt proved him human after all but it has whet my appetite for Augusta National in April.

In a world in which we are subjected to much that is shallow, fleeting and habitually deluded, this humble self-effacing man from Japan reminds us all of what dignity should look like.

Team Matsuyama embodies the same qualities.

There is always an air of respect and grace when a translator or manager is employed to communicate the golfers thoughts and the 2021 post-Masters’ gesture made by his caddie Shota Hayafuji is testament to the pervading ethos. For those that missed what transpired three years ago on Augusta’s 18th green, Hayafuji, who had carried Matsuyama’s bag enroute to his maiden Major win, took a few private moments to drift away from the first-place frenzy behind him and to honour Augusta’s hallowed ground.

To witness Hayafuji remove his hat, turn his body to face back down the 18th fairway and to bow to the golf course is one of the most abiding moments in Major history.

Call me old fashioned but The Masters remains head and shoulders my favourite golf tournament. While some people argue that the value of victory is diminished on account of it being the only Major to be always played on the same property every year, I welcome what that reality delivers.

The familiarity of Magnolia Lane and of Amen Corner can never breed contempt.

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Furthermore for us golf-punting nut jobs, there exists the undeniable advantage that The Masters has thrown up 17 golfers who have worn the Green Jacket multiple times. If ever there’s an example of horses for courses then Augusta National is it.

As a sports broadcaster, I’ve been privileged to have been afforded the opportunity to meet, interview and on the odd occasion play a round of golf with a handful of golfers who have won The Masters.

Among those have been six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, three-time champion Gary Player and the 2017 winner Sergio Garcia. Throw in two further South African’s Trevor Immelman (2008) and Charl Schwartzel (2011) and it’s perhaps understandable that I am in awe of those with a Green Jacket.

This would be an appropriate time to add a further six names to the illustrious list above! I concede that there might be a gargantuan gulf in pure golfing ability but nevertheless it’s a fact that my racing colleagues, whose names follow, have indeed all worn an illustrious Green Jacket. Take a bow Grant Knowles, Graeme Hawkins, Anthony Delpech, James Goodman, Kevin Shea and Piere Strydom.

You see, all of these fine gentlemen have won the South African Racing Masters. The achievement is considerable, the title immense but the Green Jacket that comes with it, Priceless.

The Racing Masters is an annual golf tournament that began back in 1994 at Leopard Park in Mmabatho. It spent a few years calling Swaziland home before being held for the last 15 years at the Wild Coast Sun.

Russell Purchase won the inaugural event and to give “Knowlesy” his flowers, Grant has won three times but perhaps the victory of Graeme Hawkins in 1999 was the mostly well deserved. Not only for the winning golf he produced but principally for his all round contribution to the implementation and management of what has become and remains an iconic social event in the South African equine industry.

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