Munich. After his best season in the professional ranks to date it seems only fitting that Branden Grace should start 2016 in the brightest of fashions – as a BMW Golfsport Ambassador. The 27-year-old South African finished third in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai in 2015 and was still in with a chance of winning the title outright as he entered the final event of the season in Dubai in November. In the end the honours went to Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, but not before Grace had given a demonstration of his renowned fighting spirit in finishing third at the DP World Tour Championship. It was a year in which Grace came of age in the major championships, finishing tied-fourth at the US Open at Chambers Bay – where he was in contention until the final few holes – and third at the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. For Grace, the 2016 golfing year starts at the BMW South African Open Championship (Johannesburg, 7th to 10th January). In its 105th year, the second oldest championship will be held under the illustrious BMW banner for the first time.
How good does it feel to become associated with BMW as one of the company’s Golfsport Ambassadors?
Branden Grace: “It’s great. I’ve wanted to be part of the BMW team for a long time and I’m really excited that I’m now on board.”
Have you always liked BMWs?
Grace: “BMW has always been one of my favourite cars. In fact the first car I bought myself was a BMW. It was a 320i coupe. It was a magnificent car. I’d just got on tour and as I had a good first year it was a gift to myself. I’ve always been a big fan of BMWs.”
Are you a ‘fast car’ man or do you prefer the bigger saloons?
Grace: “I do like fast sports cars. I’m not really a saloon type man, although I really like the big cars like the X6 and the X5. They give you a luxury drive and you feel very safe in them. I have to admit, though, I am a bit of a speed junkie. Put me in an M3 or an M4 and I want to see how fast I can go.”
BMW is now the title sponsor for the South African Open, the second oldest event in the game. What do you think of that?
Grace: “When it was announced I thought it was great news. To have a tournament of that calibre with the backing of such a great title sponsor is a perfect fit. For me, to be on board with the BMW family there – and hopefully playing well in the tournament – will make it even more special.”
How important will it be to play in front of your home crowd?
Grace: “We don’t get to do it that often. It’s nice getting back to South Africa to play. When you play and win in front of your home crowd it’s something special.”
How important will it be for you to do well in the BMW South African Open?
Grace: “I’ve won tournaments on home soil and now I’d like nothing more than to win the BMW South African Open. Growing up in South Africa it’s the one you want to win. If you can tick that off you have done pretty much what you have to do, being a South African. It’s a delight to play back home. Even if it’s our fifth or sixth week of playing in a row it doesn’t feel like it because you’re at home. Positive vibes take over and the tiredness goes away. As for the BMW South African Open I’ll just be thrilled to be there.”
BMW are also going to become the “Official Car” Partner of the Sunshine Tour. Do you think that is a good fit?
Grace: “It’s a perfect fit. The Sunshine Tour can be proud to have a company of BMW’s standing involved in such a way.”
Given a choice which BMW tournament would you choose to win?
Grace: “Now it would have to be the BMW South African Open. I’ve not played the BMW Championship in the States, so I can’t say that one yet. Hopefully, I can tick the SA Open off my list first and then go on to win the others! It would be nice to win a grand slam of BMW events.”
What do you find so special about playing in a BMW tournament?
Grace: “They always have the feel of a big event about them. The way BMW gets behind a tournament is fantastic and nothing is left to chance. All the facilities that are provided for players and spectators are amazing. As a player, you can just sit back and know that everything has been put in place. We are so well looked after. There is never anything out of place at a BMW event.”