One-time junior wunderkind Christo Greyling back on course in life, golf

Christo Greyling during sectional qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Open at The Bear's Club in Jupiter, Fla. on Monday, June 4, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Scott A. Miller) USGA/Scott A. Miller

One-time junior wunderkind Christo Greyling back on course in life, golf

Golf

One-time junior wunderkind Christo Greyling back on course in life, golf

Christo Greyling is 35 and married with two children in Tequesta, Fla.

“I soak up every second I get to be with my family,” Greyling said.

His road here has been beyond challenging.

Almost 20 years ago Greyling was the No. 1 junior golfer in the country. A precipitous slump followed and, later on, as Greyling was looking to establish himself as a pro, his father Iaan committed suicide.

The loss was devastating.

Greyling has persevered and returned to competitive golf. He reached a six-for-one playoff June 4 for the final spot at Shinnecock Hills from the Jupiter, Fla., U.S. Open sectional site.

He didn’t pass through, but his fortitude inspires.

“When I hear stories of him still playing, I love that,” said Ryan Hybl, Oklahoma’s coach and Greyling’s former Georgia teammate. “I think that’s phenomenal perseverance.”

Greyling’s toughness was fostered from an early age.

He was born in South Africa, a country he remains passionate about but where he grew up in fear. His dad was a farmer in a nation beset
by frequent horrifying murders of farmers and their families.

“All kinds of times at night, I was crying and worrying that we were going to be next,” Greyling said.

But his golf talent encouraged his father to move the family to Florida when Christo was 14.

The teenager was a ridiculously long and accurate driver who had the ability to launch high, towering irons. Jim Renner, a friend and current pro golfer, was awestruck by the purity of Greyling’s swing as a junior.

John Cook, an 11-time PGA Tour winner, served as assistant coach for Greyling’s Lake Highland Prep high school squad and was blown away.

“At 17 years old, he was as good a junior as I’ve seen,” Cook said. “That’s including Tiger.”

Christo Greyling, 35, his wife, Laura, and their two children in Tequesta, Fla. “I soak up every second I get to be with my family,” he said.

But during his senior year, Greyling started to lack energy.

Soon enough, he was shooting in the 80s and 90s. He went 95-88-94 and finished last by 37 shots at the 2001 Jones Cup. On a high school team trip to California, Greyling took out his vaunted driver for a clinic in front of hundreds and spent an agonizing 15 minutes hitting duck hook after slice.

“It was like my whole life got stripped from me right in front of my eyes,” Greyling said.

Greyling went to Georgia for college as planned but wasn’t the same player over those four years.

“A lot of the damage psychologically, I think, was done,” said Georgia coach Chris Haack. “He saw errant shots (during that slump) like he’d never seen before.”

In one college tournament, Greyling’s driving was so erratic that, mid-round, his father snatched the driver out of his son’s bag and walked off with it.

Dad was his greatest supporter, but he felt financial pressures and fought demons in his final years. He died in October 2009.

“I just knew I was going to be numb for a very long time,” Greyling said.

Greyling qualified for the 2011 U.S. Open, made the cut and got a Sunday pairing with Phil Mickelson. On Father’s Day.

“For my whole family, it was like God was shining down on us, letting us know that everything’s OK,” Greyling said. “You can’t say that’s by chance.”

Four years later, he had his first Father’s Day as a dad with his son, Christo. He said having children has “completely healed” his heart.

Buoyed by his nearly qualifying for the U.S. Open again, Greyling plans to play in a few smaller events this summer.

He has competed in 12 PGA Tour and Web.com Tour events combined. To the doubters who say he never made it, well, he reached the weekend at a U.S. Open. He also contends he’s never played with anybody who had more talent than him. During his junior slump, Greyling changed his swing (thinking that was the issue at first) and has never fully gotten back his “God-given” motion. But with his belief restored, his talent remains.

B.K. Suhr, Greyling’s former high school teammate, played with him in a scramble last year. With no warm-up in nippy weather, Greyling grabbed a playing partner’s hybrid and casually launched his opening tee shot from 240 yards to within 8 feet of the hole.

“He’s just got it,” Suhr said.

Greyling took nine months off from golf to be a full-time dad to infant daughter Avery (his wife, Laura, is a dermatologist), started up again only weeks before local qualifying and almost made the U.S. Open.

He feels at peace. Haack maintains he’s one of the most popular players he’s ever had.

Determined to be present for his family, Greyling’s jump back into competitive golf doesn’t include faraway tours or Q School. There’s no grand plan, no sponsors and limited options.

His confidence hasn’t faltered.

“I know what it could’ve been,” Greyling said.

“But it’s not over yet.” Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the July 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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