Tait: Otto wins despite combustible nature

Hennie Otto celebrates winning the South African Open Championship.

Hennie Otto celebrates winning the South African Open Championship.

Who says you have to be of moderate temperament to succeed on golf’s biggest stages? Not Hennie Otto.

Otto’s victory in the South African Open Championship should give hope to anyone who has ever “lost it” during a game of golf. The 35-year-old may have held his nerve to win his national championship, but he’s been known to self-combust more than a few times during his career.

The stocky South African won despite three bogeys on the back nine that saw his lead whittled from three strokes to the single shot by which he bettered Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger. Seasoned Otto watchers feared the worst.

This is the same Hennie Otto who once imploded at the Wild Coast Sun Golf Club in Natal, South Africa. After a fairly disastrous round, Otto decided his clubs weren’t worth keeping. So he snapped the shafted of every club in his bag except his putter, stuffed them in his tour bag and threw the lot off a bridge into the Umtamvuna River. Otto’s crime was discovered when a caddie fished the tour bag, emblazoned with Otto’s name, out of the river.

Otto once got so distracted by a bee during a Sunshine Tour event that he tried to swat the thing out of the air… with his driver! Otto was over a tee shot when the bee distracted him. He backed off, regrouped and settled back over the ball. The bee disturbed him a second time and Otto once again backed off. When the bee came back a third time, Otto lost it. He ended up chasing the insect around the tee trying to hit it with his driver.

A couple of years ago I heard Otto had refused to sign the card of a fellow player because of a rules incident in Portugal. I approached Otto in Dubai and asked him if the story was true. “No,” he said. “I signed the card.”

I was confused, since my source was pretty good, so I pressed him. “There was a rules incident,” the South African admitted, “but I made sure it was cleared up on the course so I could sign the card. I made sure he corrected himself. I told him we could either settle it then and there or settle matters later. He settled then and there.”

Who wouldn’t? Otto isn’t someone you would want to upset. He has the build of someone who looks like he could be a pretty good rugby player. Put it this way, not many would want to run into him at full speed.

Despite his combustible nature, he is one of the good guys. It’s a credit to his skills and professionalism that he’s now won twice on the European Tour along with 12 other professional wins.

He’s also proof that you don’t need the patience of a saint to win at the highest level.

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