UP FOR THE FIGHT
Brandon Stone doesn’t let hurdles get in his way, he puts in the work to conquer them. Gary Lemke
inside the ropes
Three-hundred-and-seventy-eight days. That’s how long the battle lasted. At the end of it, though, Brandon Stone had won the war. That war was to regain his DP World Tour card and having to start all again on the Challenge Tour.
When the golfing gods dish out their comeback story of the year, Stone should be in the conversation. Nicknamed “Pebbles” from his days as a University of Texas teammate to Jordan Spieth, he reached the heights, before he plummeted to the depths.
Those highs included winning the Sunshine Tour’s 2016-17 Order of Merit, with then record earnings of R7.3-million, the SA Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship on the DP World Tour in 2016 and representing Team SA at the Rio Olympics. Boxes ticked at the age of 23. And a World Ranking of 72, which included a career-high 67th.
A third DP World Tour win followed in 2018, when a missed putt on the last hole at the Scottish Open prevented him from being the first player on the (formerly European) Tour to shoot sub-60. “Myself and my caddie went out after the presentations and I made that putt in the near dark after all was said and done,” he later recalled.
That world ranking had dropped to 434th by the end of 2022. Stone had lost his DP World Tour playing privileges, despite having relocated to the UK where it was easier to travel to events from his and his wife’s base outside London. He was still only 29.
Stone’s top-10 finishes in 2023.
Stone’s top-10 finishes in 2023.
24 Sept Swiss Challenge (T8th)
23 July Big Green Egg German Challenge (T8th)
21 May B-NL Challenge Trophy (2nd)
26 Feb Nelson Mandela Bay Championship (T9th)
12 Feb Dimension Data Pro-Am (5th)
5 Feb Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open (T7th)
I’ve now earned my right the hard way. I’ve played my way back and I’m back on the DP World Tour next year, and I’m just super proud of myself
He had finished 129th behind Rory McIlroy on the 2022 standings, brutally cutting short any further DP World Tour ambitions. It was back to the Challenge Tour, where it had all started in 2015. It was either that, or go trout fishing while contemplating his future.
But, an inner fire still raged. And you fight fire with fire. The decision was taken to return to South Africa, play on the Challenge Tour and try to regain his DP World Tour card.
Let Stone take up the story.
“At the end of last season it was a case of knowing I wasn’t playing well,” he told THE GOLF MAG. “I knew I couldn’t get my card back, so I had to go back to the drawing board. I changed coaches, to Doug Wood, and then moved all my bases back to South Africa. Basically, I was starting afresh.
“I felt like I needed to earn the right to return to the DP World Tour. I didn’t feel like I was in a position where I could play on the Tour through the few starts I would get here and there, and a few invites. To me, earning that right had to be through the Challenge Tour.
Watch Stone talk about his year on the Challenge Tour.
“Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m fortunate that I managed to find my game and play better golf this year. Obviously, looking back now, it’s probably the best career decision I’ve ever made. I feel super proud of my ability to 1) make that decision in the first instance, 2) to trust myself, but more importantly, 3) to get the job done. To go out there and do it.
“I’ve now earned my right the hard way. I’ve played my way back and I’m back on the DP World Tour next year, and I’m just super proud of myself. Let’s see what the new season has in store!”
Obviously, Stone had to put any ego in his pocket and the fact he was a former Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner and three-time champion on the DP World Tour meant nothing. To use a football comparison, it was like being relegated from the English Premier League to the Championship. How many teams bounce back in their first season? The answer is not many.
tHE Gladiator's arena
Stone talks about what it takes to excel in the sometimes brutal world of golf.
You have to have some good travel buddies, to help cut costs but also to make time away from the course that much easier
In September the now 30-year-old Stone had spoken about life outside the top tier. “It’s been a tough year on the Challenge Tour,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of money to be made and your expenses are still extremely high. Because of this you have to have some good travel buddies, to help cut costs but also to make time away from the course that much easier. Going into the season I didn’t really know any of the boys on the Challenge Tour. That’s apart from my usual travel buddy Wilco [Nienaber] who only played a few events. But with that came the opportunity to create new friendships, and my new buddies became JJ Senekal and Jaco Prinsloo.
“I’d obviously seen the boys over the years at the co-sanctioned events, but I’d never chatted to them past the casual greeting. Their success at the Challenge Tour co-sanctioned events allowed them to play in Europe, and this is where it all began for us.”
In many ways Stone came full circle, and now he’s back on the next journey. More DP World Tour wins will follow, and perhaps there will even be another opportunity to putt for a 59.
Stone’s excellent chip shot during the first round of the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final.
CHALLENGE TOUR/GETTY IMAGES/TYRONE WINFIELD/SHAUN ROY/CARL FOURIE/PETRI OESCHGER/SUNSHINE TOUR/RYAN WILKISKY/Kenny Smith/PA Wire/BACKPAGEPIX/SUPPLIED