Golf Comment: Sullivan enjoys stratospheric rise of different kind with maiden title

Sam Torrance
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Andy Sullivan claimed his first European Tour title with victory at the South African Open
BEFORE Sunday, Andy Sullivan was probably best known for shooting a hole in one at last year’s KLM Open in Holland that won him a flight into space from one of the tournament’s sponsors.

The Englishman could have been forgiven for feeling like he had taken that prize already when he woke up yesterday morning, having broken his European Tour duck at the South African Open hours earlier.

It was a phenomenal finish to the event, as Sullivan came from five shots behind with five to play to force a play-off with former Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and then beat him at the first extra hole.

Schwartzel’s collapse, which included a double bogey and two bogeys, was horrific, especially at a home tournament, but Sullivan did his bit too with a birdie to decide the play-off.

That first title is always special but beating a Major winner in his own back yard is something that the 28-year-old will remember for the rest of his life.

Sullivan has progressed through the ranks the right way, with a successful amateur career culminating in an appearance for Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup.

He turned professional in 2011, so has been working hard to open his account for a while, and having achieved it can now be considered to have moved up another league.

What’s more is that he can now play with much greater freedom, having got that monkey off his back and in doing so guaranteed his place on the European Tour until the end of next season.

I’ll be interested to see how he and a few other rising stars fare this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, where many of the tour’s biggest names are set to play their first tournament of 2015.

Fellow Englishman Lee Slattery, who was third in South Africa, is also due to play, as are compatriots Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, who both finished in the Race to Dubai top 40 last year.

The biggest draws will be world No1 Rory McIlroy and No2 Henrik Stenson, who both finished the previous campaign in formidable form and have gone close in Abu Dhabi without winning several times before.

Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam


European Tour
■ Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
Where: Abu Dhabi GC, UAE
When: 15-18 January
Notable entrants: Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler, Jamie Donaldson
Prize pot: $2.7m

PGA Tour
Sony Open, Hawaii
Where: Waialae Country Club
When: 15-18 January
Notable entrants: Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Jimmy Walker, Charles Howell III
Prize pot: $5.6m