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Former UNLV golfer talk of PGA Tour after first win

Updated June 15, 2021 - 2:26 pm

The hottest player in the field at this week’s U.S. Open just might be someone who was playing for UNLV only three years ago.

South African Garrick Higgo spent 2017 and 2018 with the Rebels before heading home and turning pro. It’s been a remarkable run ever since.

Higgo became the first player since 1988 to win his first official regular-season PGA Tour event on Sunday at the Palmetto Championship in Ridgeland, S.C. The victory was his fourth worldwide in the past nine months and moved him to 39th in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Not bad for a player who in April 2019 was ranked No. 2,022.

“To be honest, I think I just enjoy the challenge,” he said Sunday when asked to explain his phenomenal run. “I enjoy playing. I’m a very tough competitor. I don’t really get down on myself. It’s a cliche, but I try to stay in the fight. I think I just do that really well.”

At just 22, Higgo is relying on the camaraderie of South African golfers to help him navigate the professional ranks, including Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Hall of Famer Gary Player, who has taken him under his wing.

Ernie Els, Oosthuizen, Schwartzel and Player, who called Higgo prior to the final round on Sunday to offer encouragement, were among those sending congratulations on Twitter. Player sounded like a proud mentor.

“(Seeing Garrick win) has been one of the most enjoyable things for me to witness in my career,” Player wrote. “He is without a doubt the most humble, well-mannered young man that you could wish to meet. Watch this space, big things to come.”

One of those big things could be the Olympics. Higgo’s win on Sunday made him the second-ranked South African in the world rankings behind Oosthuizen. If that holds up over the next three weeks, he’ll be headed to Tokyo this summer.

His win also earned him PGA Tour status through 2023, invitations to The Masters next April and Kapalua in January, and the ability to set his own schedule to play anywhere in the world.

It was a little overwhelming for him, especially for a player who came out of nowhere over the last nine months.

“The Sunshine Tour, if it wasn’t for the Sunshine Tour, I wouldn’t be here now,” said Higgo, referring to the men’s pro tour in South Africa. “I can’t thank the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour for giving us the platform to play.”

That play continues this week at Torrey Pines, where he joins five other players with Las Vegas ties in the U.S. Open field: Collin Morikawa, Kevin Na, and former UNLV stars Charley Hoffman, Adam Scott and Taylor Montgomery.

A case can be made for a lot of players this week, but nobody has won more around the world in the past year than Higgo, even if he doesn’t think his game is elite just yet.

“I’ve just gone to another level now,” he said, while also claiming there isn’t any aspect of his game that’s out of the ordinary. “So I’ll just see what my game can do. I enjoy playing and seeing what my game does and where it takes me. I’m going to continue with that. I don’t think there’s any need to put unnecessary expectations on me.”

Chip Shots

— Jackson Parrish shot a pair of 65s to finish at 14-under and dominate the Reflection Bay Amateur Championship, winning by five shots over Michael Sarro and Max Cooper. Glenn Hogle finished at 7-under to win the Senior title by two shots over Gary Carpendale. Other winners were Renee Rocco (Championship Net), Terry Martin (Senior Net), Steven Fink (Silver Gross) and Robert McClure (Silver Net).

— Lost in Higgo’s win in South Carolina was the tie for eighth posted by David Lipsky in his first PGA Tour start this season. The finish gets the Las Vegas resident, who plays on the Korn Ferry Tour, into the field for next week’s Travelers Championship in Cornwell, Connecticut.

Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at robertsongt@gmail.com .

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