Christiaan Bezuidenhout quickly becoming household name on TOUR
Set to compete this week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
April 08, 2021
By Jeff Babineau, PGATOUR.COM
- April 08, 2021
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout is focused on competing more on the PGA TOUR. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Editor's note: This story originally ran on March, 22 2021. Bezuidenhout shot a first-round 70 at Augusta National on Thursday.
ORLANDO, Fla. – By now, you know the name, if not the golfer. Christiaan Bezuidenhout. It’s a whopper. Twenty-two letters, with an extra 'a' thrown into the first name for good measure. As names go, not only is Bezuidenhout cumbersome to stitch onto a golf bag, but it is not very autograph-friendly. Like, say, a Ben An. How unfortunate. If Bezuidenhout maintains the trajectory he has shown the past 22 months, tasting success around the globe, there should be many youngsters chasing after it.
Bezuidenhout, from South Africa, is only 26 years old, and already has ascended to 35th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Scaling that highly comes with nice perks. In addition to playing six major championships in 11 months, Bezuidenhout – C-Bez, as his manager calls him – will tee it up this week in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin. He is in Group 7 along with former Masters champions Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson, as well as talented Chilean Joaquin Niemann, against whom he will play his first match Wednesday at Austin Country Club.
Bezuidenhout has won on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, on the European Challenge Tour, and on the European Tour, winning back-to-back on the latter in December. When he captured the Alfred Dunhill Championship (by four) and South African Open (by five), he became the first European Tour player to win back-to-back since Justin Rose in 2017. Bezuidenhout owns three European Tour victories, defeating Spaniard Jon Rahm on Rahm’s home soil at the 2019 Andalucia Masters for his first victory in Europe.
His next conquest: the United States. Bezuidenhout has set up camp in a condo within a few hundred yards of the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Arnie’s Place, and is hoping to play good enough in 12 allotted PGA TOUR starts to pile up enough FedExCup points to earn temporary membership for 2020-21. Helped by a T7 at Bay Hill a few weeks ago, he finds himself with 160 points, more than halfway to the 288.035 points that he needs.
“The goal is to get myself based over here and and play full-time,” he said. “I want to compete against the best players in the world, and the PGA TOUR is the ultimate place to play golf.”
He has a game that isn’t all that flashy, but rounded, solid, and unfailingly rock-steady. Bezuidenhout is not overly long off the tee, but can move it out there 300-310 yards when he is striking it well, which is long enough. His strength is in his short game. He’s a quality chipper and a very good putter. He loves to work on the putting, typically spending two-and-a half hours a day on the practice green performing drills, honing his touch. Through 16 PGA TOUR rounds this season, he ranks first in Strokes Gained: Around-The-Green and is 25th in Strokes Gained: Putting. On the European Tour in 2020, he ranked third in average putts per round (27.98), nearly a stroke and a half ahead of the European Tour average.
“He putts it really good,” said South African Branden Grace, who, like Bezuidenhout, rose through the junior ranks as part of the Ernie Els Foundation. (Bezuidenhout enjoys a terrific relationship with Els, who has has provided him valuable advice. He often visits with him, or exchanges texts with him.) “Christiaan played really well at the end of the year, winning those last two events in South Africa. It really pushed him up in the World Ranking. He’s a great player. Keep an eye on him.”
Bezuidenhout’s story is one of early adversity, plenty of personal pain, and ultimately, of significant triumph. At the age of 2, Bezuidenhout was with his parents in a supermarket in South Africa when he reached for a random two-liter Coca Cola bottle and drank from it. When his parents turned around to check on their son, he was on the ground, unconscious, foaming at his mouth. The bottle from which he drank had rat poison in it.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout has overcome tough situations to get where he is. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Young Christiaan was rushed to the hospital and spent a couple of weeks in Intensive Care. The poison impacted his nervous system, and would affect his speech. Since his youngest days, Bezuidenhout has spoken with a stutter. He was diagnosed at 4 with severe anxiety. He had a difficult time speaking publicly, and dealt with challenging days when he was in primary school. Sometimes the words in his head didn’t come out at all. He often was bullied when trying to speak, or read, in class.
“I never showed that it hurt me,” he said. “When somebody laughs, I’d just laugh with them. I never wanted them to see that it affected me. I’d let it go. And then when I got home from school, I’d just do my own thing, you know?”
Christiaan’s “thing” became golf. The game soothed him. He came from a golf family, and was hitting balls by the time he was 4. Self-admittedly a loner, and having no interest to compete in team sports, Christiaan found golf to be the perfect escape. He didn’t need anyone else to hit balls, or play, and didn’t need to talk to anyone. On the grounds of his humble golf club in Delmas, a small farming town outside of Johannesburg, Bezuidenhout would venture to the third fairway of the town’s little nine-hole course, empty his shag bag of balls, and hit 7-irons and 9-irons at a tall tree in the middle of the fairway. When he needed to hit longer clubs, he’d gather up his golf balls and head to a lengthier par-5 hole, smashing them for hours.
For him, every golf ball struck was therapeutic. When he started to win junior tournaments, officials knew his situation, so he’d be allowed to gather his trophy and go, not making the traditional winner’s speech. When Bezuidenhout wasn’t playing junior events, it was back to Delmas, hitting balls until his hands gave out, or the sun dropped from the sky.
“We had about 60 members at the club, very small,” he said. “Not a great golf course. Nine holes. So I’d play nine holes, 18 holes, 27 holes, hit balls. chip and putt. Play some more holes. That’s what I did, every day, after school. I never wanted to be anything else but a professional golfer.”
He was on medications for years, and in 2014, as his golf was beginning to blossom, he drew a two-year suspension from competition for taking beta blockers. (The suspension later was reduced to nine months.) It kept him from competing at the World Amateur, and crushed his spirit for a time. For Bezuidenhout, it was one more setback to fight through.
Three years ago, Bezuidenhout was bumping along as a young professional, sitting outside the top 500 in the World Ranking, when he met up with fellow South African Grant Veenstra, a former professional who had turned to coaching after a 12-year career on the Sunshine Tour. Veenstra is short and stocky and in-your-face direct, and will openly tell you his style isn’t for everyone. He has had some nice success as a coach, mentoring pros such as Richard Sterne, Dean Burmester, Haydn Porteous and promising up-and-comer Jayden Schaper, who finished second to Bezuidenhout at the Dunhill.
Bezuidenhout showed up as anyone might with a potential new instructor. He brought his clubs and figured he’d hit some balls. Veenstra had other thoughts. “Pack your clubs away,” he told him. “We’re going to the pub.”
There, over a handful of brandy and Cokes, Veenstra wanted to explore Bezuidenhout’s story. What were his fears? Did he ever back off down the stretch of a tournament to avoid the champion’s duties of speaking at a trophy ceremony? And just how good did he want to be?
“I wanted to hear it from him, and we cleared up all of that,” Veenstra said. “We had a great talk. It broke the ice. The next morning at 8 a.m., we started hitting golf balls.”
Christiaan Bezuidenhout jars long birdie putt at Arnold Palmer
The two keep a regimented program of maintenance for Bezuidenhout’s game (four hours of golf, then physio and strength work), and have worked recently to push Bezuidenhout into becoming a more consistent ballstriker. His solid hits, especially with the driver, are fine; one of Bezuidenhout’s biggest strenths is how straight he hits the ball. His mis-hits, however, often come up woefully short, which in turn leaves him long irons in, which makes it difficult to hit greens, and consequently, to score. Surprisingly, even when he has won, Bezuidenhout said he only had one, sometimes two good ballstriking rounds in those weeks, relying mostly on his razor-sharp short game to pull him through.
“I tend to change my clubface angle at the top (of the swing), and it falls open. It doesn’t start online,” he said. “That’s why I’m working a lot on getting my clubface squarer, stronger, so that I can hold that position in my swing. As soon as I master that, I think I’m going to be a different player, more consistent in my game. That’s what’s been lacking the last couple of years – putting four solid ballstriking rounds together. If I’m a more consistent ballstriker, and iron player, then those top 30s can become top 10s.”
Even with a costly bogey/double bogey finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, Bezuidenhout tied for seventh, his best finish on the PGA TOUR. He will play this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play, the Masters and the RBC Heritage, hoping to wrap up his FedExCup points quest, and then re-assess his schedule going forward.
Veenstra marvels at Bezuidenhout’s consistency, his mental toughness, and his ability to adjust to what he has in his game on a given day. He said Bezuidenhout does not get down on himself. Case in point was the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bezuidenhout had a grand opportunity on Sunday, playing in the second-to-last group alongside Rory McIlroy. But he struggled mightily in very tough conditions, shooting 79 and plummeting to T18.
Four days later in the first round at THE PLAYERS, Bezuidenhout bounced back by shooting 65. That next morning, Commissioner Jay Monahan announced the PGA TOUR season was on hold because of COVID-19. Bezuidenhout returned home to South Africa for three months.
“The ability to bounce back, that’s the sign of a great player,” Veenstra said. “Christiaan’s 15th club is his mind. He has a very strong mind on how to turn it around, and he rarely lets a round get away from him.
“He is a man who is all about structure. To see him climb, and to see his game improve, it’s been amazing. We still have goals to achieve going forward. We want to be top 20 in the world for 20 years – that’s where we are going with it.”
Just as he has grown as a player, Bezuidenhout has grown to be very comfortable with who he is, and how he speaks. His thoughts and words have eloquence, and just take a little more time to be delivered. Told that his story of perseverance could serve to inspire young children who are dealing with situations similar to his, he nods modestly in affirmation.
“Hopefully, I do,” says the man who has as much depth to him as his 22-letter name might suggest. “Golf has helped me a lot. It helped me to deal with it. … It’s not a secret. I don’t have to hide it, or be ashamed of it, or who I am. I’m fine with it. I’m happy with who I am.”