Tony Johnstone has always had a fascination with the wonder of the world around him. Be it the plants and insects that captivated him as a boy when he would pack a water bottle and sandwich and disappear into the bush around their family home in Bulawayo. Or the now almost lost art of shaping a golf ball and bending the rules of physics. Or the skill of delivering the right line at the right time in golf commentary.

For Johnstone, it begins with that initial wonder which leads to the art, and which is then driven by a passion.

That wonder was always there in the way he played the game during his professional career. It’s there in his love of nature photography. And it shines through in his colourful and insightful commentary, which he’s also seen evolve along with other elements of the game.

“Golf commentary has changed a lot. When I first started we were told to let the pictures breathe, and you’re telling a story. So you only talk when you have something to add. It’s become more Americanised now. It’s quick-fire shots now and there’s not nearly as much time to tell stories and bring up stories from the past and have chats.


Extra time with Johnstone.

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Extra time with Johnstone.

What’s the most important advice you’d give to a young Sunshine Tour professional?

Believe in yourself. Accept that there are innumerable guys out there as talented as you and you’ll have to outwork them. And be very careful who manages you.

How concerned are you about money being a primary motivation in professional golf?

Last year I was on a flight and I saw a golfer come out of first class. I asked him if he was going to play at the South African tournaments, and he basically told me he wasn’t because he was in the game for the money. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. Then you have Thriston Lawrence on the other side. He finished second at March’s Jonsson Workwear Open. At the airport I congratulated him on a great week. He said he was still disappointed because he plays for the wins. There’s the attitude. When winning means more than the cheque. There’s not one player I know of who had a great career who thought about the money.

Having watched so many shots from behind a microphone, what is your take on modern equipment?

Equipment has brought a major skill reduction. It asks so many fewer questions of a player’s ability. Where is the shaping of shots? That’s why links golf is still king in my mind – it still demands that. I think the ruling bodies have missed opportunities to make a real difference in how equipment impacts the game, and the equipment manufacturers will always be one step ahead of that.

Your love of nature also always shines through in your commentary.

I’ve always been fascinated with nature. I love sharing my photos on social media because so many people will never get the opportunity to see what we’re lucky enough to see a couple of times a year in Kruger Park. I feel like it’s promoting an interest in conservation.

We tease each other on air and I hope the South African viewers enjoy the fact that we’re basically a bunch of friends talking golf

“Also, the political correctness of life has made it that where you used to have to think one sentence ahead, you’re now having to think a couple ahead because something is bound to offend somebody. There’s not much of a sense of humour left in the world.”

And yet when Johnstone and Dale Hayes, and previously Denis Hutchinson, are in a booth together, humour is never in short supply.

“We tease each other on air and I hope the South African viewers enjoy the fact that we’re basically a bunch of friends talking golf. Hutchy and Hayes have both been wonderful for golf. In my mind they’re both Mr Golf in South Africa.

“Hutchy’s commentary was a different style to mine. He never really wanted to criticise a player because he always said he knew how hard the game is. I also know, but if a shot is bad I’ll say it, and likewise if it’s good. He was once so angry with me for saying a particular shot was pathetic. Hutchy had a gentler form of commentary. He was always kind and insightful and had a wonderful delivery. So smooth, and so well respected in the game. And Hayes is so naughty. He’s the king of throwing the grenade in the room and seeing what happens.”

The unparalleled influx of money in professional golf has raised an obvious red flag for Johnstone.

“I think it’s disappointing that the lure of money has done what it has. It’s a disgrace. Let’s never forget that as professional golfers we’re the entertainment fringe. If every single golf pro dies overnight, I can tell you how much difference it will make to the game – none.

“Am I missing anybody on the regular Tours who is now playing on LIV? Maybe Jon Rahm because I always thought he was interested in legacy. But that’s it. Yet it’s caused a massive rift in the game. When golf becomes just about the money it’s soulless.”


Johnstone discusses his battle with multiple sclerosis, and his fight to get back on the golf course.