Interviews with the players
Throughout 2021, we will be interviewing some of our regular players, as they look back on the past year, and remember some of their favourite Alfred Dunhill Links memories over the years.
Daniel van Tonder - Quick Interview
The performance of Daniel van Tonder was one of the most pleasant surprises in an absorbing Open Championship at Royal St George’s. In only his second Major Championship, the 30-year-old South African was six-under-par after rounds of 68 and 66 at the halfway stage and won a large number of fans. He is already looking forward to playing in the 20th Anniversary Alfred Dunhill Links Championship this autumn.
Question: What does it feel like to have made your debut in The Open and played all four rounds there?
Daniel: It’s a dream come true. This year has been a big year for me in terms of making that next step up to the Majors. I played in my first Major in the PGA Championship, and to now have also played in The Open is fantastic. As South Africans, this is the Major we watched a lot growing up. You know all the history and the great courses and now to be a part of that is really special. The Open is massive.
Question: How much do you enjoy Links golf?
Daniel: I’ve always enjoyed Links golf. It’s obviously a little different to what we usually play, but I’ve always enjoyed it.
Question: Did you enjoy Royal St George’s in particular?
Daniel: I loved it. It felt a bit like some of the Links courses we have at home in South Africa, like the Fancourt Links or Humewood. I’ve always loved Links golf, and Royal St George’s was a lot of fun to play.
Question: What was your best moment of The Open?
Daniel: Definitely teeing off on the 1st, with the big grandstand behind you, and when they called my name to tee off – that was amazing. To hear the fans cheer you. And then looking to my right and seeing my wife and caddie Abi watching me, that was quite amazing. It felt awesome. To have Abi there to experience it with me was great.
Question: Will you be playing the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship this year?
Daniel: Yes, I will. I haven’t played there for quite some time. I’m looking forward to it. I love all three of those Links courses – Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and the Old Course in St Andrews. I’m looking forward to that and have always enjoyed it every time I have played, so I can’t wait for it this year.
Question: What have you learned from the experience of playing in Majors this year?
Daniel: The Majors are completely different. You just have this awareness that you’re playing with the world’s best on the biggest stage in your sport. That alone lifts your whole game and focus. The pressure is obviously greater, but at the same time it makes you want to perform and play better. It’s a special experience.
Question: The last few years have seen a turnaround in your game. What has been the reason?
Daniel: I just think I’m a lot calmer and more focused on the golf course. And I know what works for me now. My wife and caddie, Abi, has been amazing and an integral part of this process. She knows my game so well, and she knows how to keep me calm on the course and lighten the mood when I need it.
Question: You actually have a funny story about how you two first met?
Daniel: Yes. It was during the Nelson Mandela Championship on the Sunshine Tour in 2013. I was on the driving range quite early and she was running the coffee station there. We’re both Afrikaans speaking, but she chose to speak English to me. I think it was just to mess with me. I asked to buy a coffee and she said they weren’t open yet and I needed to wait. So I told her I’d wait for a pretty face anytime. And that was it. We were engaged in 2015.
Question: You won four times in 2020 and then your first European Tour title in 2021. It’s been part of a run of South African victories on the European Tour and PGA Tour. Does it inspire you to be a part of that?
Daniel: Absolutely. We all work so hard, and when you see your fellow pro’s doing well around the world, it inspires you to keep working hard to also achieve. It also helps with the self-belief. When you see guys you’ve played with moving on to greater things on other Tours, it makes you realise what’s possible with your own game. I think that’s part of the secret to the success of South African golf – one generation always inspires the next.
Question: You have your European Tour card now. Are you looking forward to life on Tour?
Daniel: It’s been a goal of mine to make it on to the European Tour for a few years now. Abi and I are certainly enjoying it. It has been challenging though because with the global pandemic you can’t do too much of the sightseeing and so on that you’d like to do. But it’s still been great to see other countries.
Question: What are your goals now?
Daniel: I think it’s just to keep learning. Experience plays a major part in this game. I just want to keep learning and improving.
Victor Perez - Quick Interview
Victor Perez has held the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship trophy since October 2019 as a result of the shutdown of golf last year. If he wins the 20th Anniversary Championship at St Andrews this October, it means the Dundee-based Frenchman will hold the prestigious silver bowl for three years; a unique and unusual record. Next on his list of challenges, however, is the US Open this week at Torrey Pines.
Question: How has 2021 been for you so far? Was finishing fourth in the WGC Match Play the highlight so far?
Victor Perez: The past year has certainly been a testing one for everyone around the world. As golfers, we have been so fortunate for the incredible work that Keith Pelley and the European Tour have done to get tournaments on the schedule. To complete the Race to Dubai last year was one of the more underrated and impressive accomplishments in global sport. The Match Play was a big highlight this year, but there have also been several other big moments. Birdieing the 36th hole at The Players Championship and then going on to finish inside the top ten was a great feeling and so was having the chance to go toe-to-toe with Dustin Johnson, the No 1 player in the world, at the Saudi International. But honestly, the biggest highlight of the last year has been the return of the fans to golf tournaments. Fans are the lifeblood of all sport and I can’t wait to see the crowds grow larger and larger as restrictions get lifted.
Question: You are now 34th in the world rankings, are you happy with the progress you’ve made since winning the Alfred Dunhill Links?
Victor Perez: There is no question that winning the Dunhill was massive for me as a player. The field was the strongest in tournament history and it proved to me that I could win against the best players in the world. I’ve had many great results since then, but as a golfer you are never fully satisfied. We are always trying to do better, but the reality is that golf is incredibly difficult! If I take a step back and look at my progress I am happy overall, but I know that I need to continue to work hard to climb higher and higher and achieve my goals.
Question: What are your thoughts going into the US Open?
Victor Perez: I’m excited for the test that awaits us at Torrey Pines. The US Open will always be the most demanding tournament psychologically. It requires patience at the highest degree, but it also places great demands on all aspects of your game. Torrey Pines has become synonymous with Tiger Woods. He has had so much success there and I think we will all miss seeing him a little bit more when the US Open returns there for the first time since his heroic win in 2008.
Question: Have you played Torrey Pines before?
Victor Perez: I’ve played the course before, back in college, but I have no doubt that a US Open set-up will be much different.
Question: Is it the sort of course that suits your game?
Victor Perez: There is so much that goes into a tournament week that its always hard to say what does or does not suit a certain player. Before seeing the way the USGA is setting it up, it’s hard for me to say what it will play like.
Question: You seem comfortable playing in the US. Is it very different from Europe?
Victor Perez: There are differences in things like course set-up and tournament fields, but the biggest thing to remember is that ultimately, you are playing golf, and no matter where in the world you are, to succeed you must execute each shot at hand.
Question: You studied psychology at the University of New Mexico. Has that helped with your approach to the game and your performance on the course?
Victor Perez: Victor Perez: More than anything, the experience of playing NCAA [college] golf has been the biggest help to my game. It made me familiar with many of the players and helped to give me the belief I needed to turn pro.
Question: How good are your chances of making the Ryder Cup Team? And what do you think of Europe’s chances?
Victor Perez: Nothing is given in this game. Everything is earned, and so I must earn my place on the team. As for Europe’s chances, the US team will be incredibly strong and hungry to win the Ryder Cup back. I believe we can retain the Cup, but we will have to earn it.
Question: We are looking forward to seeing you at the Alfred Dunhill the week after the Ryder Cup, how often do you manage to get back ‘home’ to Dundee?
Victor Perez: I live in Dundee and love it there. Whenever I'm not competing, that's where I am.
Robert MacIntyre - Quick Interview
Robert MacIntyre thrilled Scottish golf and impressed the rest of the world with a 12th placed finish in The Masters in April to earn a return to Augusta next year. The talented 24-year-old, currently the leading Scot in the world rankings, now heads to Kiawah Island to play in next week’s US PGA Championship. He is also looking forward to autumn and bringing his family and friends from Oban to the Alfred Dunhill Links in October. “The event suits me. It’s a fun week,” he says.
Question: The dust has settled now, can you give us your reaction to your performance at Augusta?
Robert MacIntyre: It really was quite some week, and there is no doubt that Augusta is a very unique place. The short-term goal over the past two months in the United States was to play well enough to secure an invite to The Masters. Once the invitation arrived, I knew I had to re-focus. I wanted to enjoy my first trip to Augusta, but I went there to compete
Question: You looked comfortable throughout, was it really like that?
Robert MacIntyre: I took a break the week before The Masters and, although I didn’t go there until the Monday, I was able to get settled over the weekend before, so that I was ready to practise as soon as I was on site. I loved the course and I feel it suited my game well. However, the greens are some of the toughest I have ever putted on, so any loss of concentration can have a big impact on your round. I was fortunate to speak with Sandy Lyle before the event and also to play a practice round with Patrick Reed. Their advice was invaluable, and this helped me as the week went on
Question: You finished tied 12th, did you have a target going into the event?
Robert MacIntyre: Every time I enter a golf tournament, I am there to do the best I can and I want to win. The Masters was no different, although I knew how difficult a course it can be. Once I made the cut, I was keen to push on over the weekend, and that’s exactly what I did. My birdie count showed that I was willing to take my chances when the moment came, but I also recognise how difficult a course it can be.
Question: What does it mean knowing that you will definitely be going back to Augusta in 2022?
Robert MacIntyre: It’s a great feeling to know already that I will be competing again at Augusta next year, because playing at this level in the Majors is where I want to be. I will use everything I have learned this year next year and, hopefully, in many more years to come too.
Question: You are the highest-ranked Scot in the world - at the age of 24. What does that mean to you?
Robert MacIntyre: I am obviously proud to represent my country on Tour, and being the highest-ranked Scot is special. However, it’s the world rankings that count, and the higher I can get up these rankings is what motivates me.
Question: What are your goals for the rest of 2021?
Robert MacIntyre: I am looking forward to playing in the rest of the Majors and WGC events, and I am obviously looking forward to be competing at home in Scotland too. I always receive a fantastic support when I play in Scotland and these events are very important to me.
Question: The Alfred Dunhill Links has been held at St Andrews since 2001 – as a Scot is that an important event for you?
Robert MacIntyre: Like Augusta, St Andrews is also a very special place. I was brought up playing on links golf courses, so the event suits me. We get the chance to play on three fantastic courses in front of a big home support, and that is hugely motivating. It’s a fun week and I have my entire family and friends from Oban with me, which is something that doesn’t happen too much on Tour. The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is now one of the most established events on the European Tour schedule, and I am hoping that I can perform well in front of a home crowd this year.
Question: You played in 2019, what are your memories?
Robert MacIntyre: I was playing with Ashton Curtis in 2019, and, although individually and as a team we weren’t right up there competing, I was pleased that we made the cut and had the chance to play on the Old Course for a second time on the Sunday.
Question: Are you looking forward to playing this year?
Robert MacIntyre: The past 12 months have been tough for everyone and trying to get back to playing in front of crowds is something that we are all looking forward to. So I am hopeful that we may be able to see some golf fans back on the course soon. The timing of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship means that this could be a real possibility and this would be great for the fans, the players and the event.
Question: Then there will be the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews in 2022 – is golf history something that is important to you?
Robert MacIntyre: Yes, golf is my passion and a huge part of my life. I have been brought up living on a golf course and watching all of the Major Championships on the TV. I love the history and tradition that golf brings, together with the competitive demands of the professional game. Just as my first Masters was exciting to compete in, the 150th Open Championship on the Old Course is something I really want to be a part of.
Question: Did you have a role model when you were younger that you looked up to?
Robert MacIntyre: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson
Question: Who has helped you most in your rise to the top 50 in the world?
Robert MacIntyre: There have been many people, in addition to my family, who have helped me since I was a kid, however I really believe in the strength of the team around you. Some, like Michael my caddie, are more visible, but everyone has a part to play, and having the right people, with the same mindset, gives you a strong platform to allow me to play my best.
Question: What do you feel are your strengths?
Robert MacIntyre: I like to focus on my game, rather than be affected by what is going on around me. I believe that if I can continue to improve my golf game and play to the best of my ability, then the rewards will be there. I am very ambitious and I have put a lot of hard work into getting to where I am now, but I also know there is still a lot of hard work to do if I am to fully realise my ambitions.
Question: What are you working on to improve?
Robert MacIntyre: I am always looking to improve every aspect of my game, and I try to find areas that can help me by even the smallest of margins. There are so many good players playing at the top of game that I cannot afford to have any significant weaknesses. I am still young, and I am learning with every event I play. There is a reason why many players remain at the top level of the world rankings and I believe, with the right drive and ambition, I can develop my game to genuinely challenge and compete at this level.
Branden Grace - Quick Interview
South Africa's Branden Grace, winner of the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links Champion at St Andrews and the 2014 Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, looks ahead to a promising year of golf after his victory last month in the Puerto Rico Open.
Question: Congratulations on Puerto Rico. What was the secret?
Branden Grace: Patience, and a lot of it. It was a case of just waiting for it to happen. It was playing so tough every day, with a one-to-three-club wind, that you had to be patient out there, and I did that really well.
Question: Brilliant eagle-birdie finish. Have you ever finished as well?
Branden Grace: No. I've finished birdie-eagle before, but never to win a tournament.
Question: What does it mean to win this event?
Branden Grace: It's great. It gets me back on track, and in the winner's circle again. It opens a lot of doors for me for the remainder of the year. It also gets me into the Sentry Tournament of Champions on the PGA Tour at the beginning of next season. And in the bigger picture, I'm one step closer to getting back into the top 50 in the world again. That's where I want to be.
Question: Was this an emotional win after your father's death a month before?
Branden Grace: He was definitely with me in that final round. I felt him there. My wife and my mom said he'd be there watching over me, and that's what I felt. On 17, I was going back and forth in my head about whether to go for it or lay up, and I just had this thing in my head where I remember him telling me that I'm the kind of golfer who doesn't really know how to lay up. It was one of the easier decisions for me to take when I thought of that, and I just went for it.
Question: Did he play an important role in your golf career?
Branden Grace: Yes. He was the one who started me in the game. He gave me my first set of clubs. Growing up, both my mom and dad took me to wherever I needed to be to play golf. They took me to all the tournaments and gave me opportunities. It was never a case of ‘No'. It was always, ‘We'll make it happen'. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I am today.
Question: What is your programme for the next few months?
Branden Grace: I took a bit of time off with the family after the win. I'll play the Valero Texas Open next, and try and get into the winner's circle there and secure that last spot for The Masters.
Question: What are your targets for 2021?
Branden Grace: Just trying to win again. It's so nice to have won, and it just reaffirms that feeling that you know what you have to do when you're in that situation. Competing in the Majors that I'm exempt for and giving myself chances there is another big goal. And then to start working my way back into the top 50, then the top 30, and also making it to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Question: You are the only man who has won the Alfred Dunhill Links and the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
Are these special events to you?
Branden Grace: It's obviously very special to have won both. The Alfred Dunhill Championship is a tournament I always wanted to win at Leopard Creek. It's nice to have won both, and I'll be back to hopefully get my hands on another one.
Question: You shot a course record 60 at Kingsbarns in 2012 on your way to win. What are your memories of that?
Branden Grace: It was amazing. The year 2012 was a great year for me and it felt like I couldn't do anything wrong on the golf course. At Kingsbarns, I got out there and just made birdie after birdie. It's always great to shoot a 60 in a first round, but what made it so special was that I still went on to finish the tournament with a win.
Question: You also scored a record low 62 in a Major Championship at The Open at Birkdale in 2017. What are your memories of that?
Branden Grace: It was unbelievable. I can pretty much remember everything from that round, from the first hole where I hit it to 15 feet and rolling the putt in, to the last hole. For me the most disappointing thing about that round was not making birdie on the par-five 15th, especially after hitting such a great drive there. But the putting was a big key in shooting the 62 that day. It was one of those where I hit a lot of good fairway shots and drives, and my approaches were on, but I never hit it that close to give myself reasonable chances. I think I made about three or four 40-footers that day. When the hole becomes that big it feels really easy, and before I knew it I'd shot a 62.
Question: Which was the better / more memorable of the two?
Branden Grace: I can't choose between the two. They were both very special. The first because I started with a 60, and it's still the course record at Kingsbarns, and I kept it going to win. Then shooting 62 and the lowest score in a men's Major was amazing. The 62 hasn't really sunk in yet actually. But it's amazing to know I'm in the history books for that.
Question: What would another Alfred Dunhill Links victory mean?
Branden Grace: It would be amazing. It is one of my favourite tournaments of the year to play. It was sad to miss it last year. One of my fondest memories was Mr Johann Rupert [Chairman of the Championship Committee] giving me the opportunity to invite my father to play with me a few years ago. That was such a big treat for both of us. What a great place and week, and it's great to spend time with all the amateurs and such a good bunch of people. I know everybody loves the event, and I'll definitely be back at the end of the season.
Lee Westwood - Quick Interview
Britain’s Lee Westwood, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2003, looks ahead to a promising new year of golf.
Question: In terms of your career, where does 2020 fit in?
Lee Westwood: Pretty high up - winning the Race-to-Dubai for the third time and still winning at the age of 47 made 2020 a great year.
Question: Best moment of 2020?
Lee Westwood: Winning the Race-to-Dubai.
Question: Was there a secret to your success?
Lee Westwood: It’s been a long term thing, relaxing on the course and not worrying about bad shots and being able to move on to the next shot more easily.
Question: What odds would you have given yourself at the start of the year to win the Race-to-Dubai?
Lee Westwood: I did not expect to win at all and I would have given myself pretty long odds.
Question: Off the golf course, what were your main memories of 2020?
Lee Westwood: Covid, lockdowns, sitting on the Peloton bike a lot, using my big green egg and doing jigsaws.
Question: You last won the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2003. Thoughts?
Lee Westwood: I only made one bogey that week on the 2nd hole at St Andrews on the final day and my only albatross on the 9th during the third round at Kingsbarns. Then of course you always remember crossing the Swilken Bridge and wandering up the last.
Question: Do you still remember the albatross?
Lee Westwood: Oh, yes. Holed a 4-iron.
Question: Is that more or less memorable than the hole-in-one in 2019?
Lee Westwood: More than the hole-in-one.
Question: Main Targets for 2021?
Lee Westwood: Keep on improving.
Question: How would a second Alfred Dunhill Links win suit you?
Lee Westwood: The Dunhill Links is a great tournament, it is different playing with amateurs and I do enjoy playing links golf. Another win at some stage would be great.