December 2020 – “Ernie and I were neck-and-neck all through the final round and it was one of the best rounds of match play I can remember playing. Even if the records say I won by seven shots, it never felt like that.” – Tony Johnstone, 1993 at Durban Country Club.
A young, freckled-faced Tony Johnstone lifted his first SA Open title at Houghton in 1984 and nearly a decade later, he claimed it again at Durban Country Club.
To this day, the 1978 Freddie Tait Cup winner has a tough time deciding which battle was the most spectacular.
“Houghton was my first win; it’s where I kind of made everyone sit up and take notice of this red-haired, freckle-faced boy from Zimbabwe. But I won it with a 21-under-par 267 championship record in Durban. Even though I know that the record no longer stands, it still remains a standout moment in my career. They were both pretty spectacular and still rate, above all my other accomplishments, as the two top achievements of my career.
“In Durban, where I had lived for eight years, on a course where I practiced twice a week, I was able to put my name on the trophy for a second time. That trophy has some heavyweight names on it. It’s South African golf’s most prestigious silverware and I lifted it twice.
“I think what gives my victory in Durban the slight edge is that I was able to hold off and beat Ernie. First John Bland got in the mix with a course record 62, then Mark McNulty was on the scene and then this young Ernie Els made everyone sit up and take notice. Then, somehow I played myself into the mix. The others fell away and it was just me and this huge kid from Kempton Park.
“Ernie and I were neck-and-neck all through the final round and it was one of the best rounds of match play I can remember playing. Even if the records say I won by seven shots, it never felt like that.”
For Johnstone, winning the South African Open cemented his position in Southern African golf.
“The SA Open is steeped in history, it’s full of tradition and it’s had some incredible champions. Even though people talk about Blandie’s 62 to this day, it was my name that was engraved on the trophy, for a second time, I might add. That’s what matters, that I was able to win the greatest tournament in South Africa. ”