Brandon Stone admits Scottish Open 'motivation' as he closes in on DP World Tour card
The South African’s name will forever be synonymous with the Rolex Series event after he landed the coveted title in style by closing with a sensational 60 on a composite course at Gullane to secure a four-shot success in 2018, three years after Rickie Fowler had come out on top in its first staging at that particular venue.
“Without a doubt,” replied Stone to being asked if that title triumph remains the highlight of his career. “Listen, I was a skinny kid from South Africa when I first went to Scotland. I had no idea how to play links golf and to have my name on that trophy along with the names of some of the greatest golfers to ever walk the fairways is obviously something that is very dear to my heart.”
Stone had already landed two DP World Tour victories on home soil, having made his breakthrough in the 2016 SA Open before adding the Alfred Dunhill Championship later that same year, but, in one of the best rounds of golf ever witnessed on the circuit, he lit up the East Lothian coast with a last-day blitz that contained an eagle and eight birdies.
“It was just so special,” he added as his eyes sparkled just thinking about that day. “I mean, every year we’ve been back in that area, I’ve taken a walk down to Gullane and stood on the 18th green and re-assessed how my life changed that day and it really did. I’m a much older, slightly fatter man now (smiling), but I can still remember it as if it was yesterday and I still chat to my mates all the time about it and how special it was. The carrot in front of my head of playing in it next year is definitely one of the most motivating factors for getting my game back.”
Helped by that Scottish success, Stone was close to breaking into the top 50 in the world yet is now just inside the top 500. He lost his main tour card at the end of last season after finishing 129th in the Race to Dubai and had been back playing on the Challenge Tour this year. Though set to face a nerve-wracking final day in the second-tier circuit’s Rolex Grand Final supported by The R&A at Club de Golf Alcanada near Port D’Alcudia in Mallorca, the 30-year-old is on course to securing his seat back at the top table for 2024.
“Yes and no,” said Stone, who sits in the final card-clinching spot in the season-long battle for 20 coveted cards, in reply to being asked if it had been a shock to his system when he lost his DP World Tour status. “Towards late October in 2022, I had no game. In all honesty, I was probably playing the worst golf I have since I turned professional.
"I had the option to go to Q-School, but I just knew I couldn’t go as I knew I wasn’t going to get my card back. It was one of those decisions where I sat down and said ‘I’m not going to go all the way to Spain to shoot over par and not get my card back, so let me go home and spend a few weeks working with my coach and suss of where I am and I where I need to be in the process in between’ and we did just that.
“I hit more balls than I have in my entire life and worked on the mind, too. I needed some time back home. I needed some time with my friends and family, especially my wife as I hadn’t seen a lot of her really since Covid. It was kind of a rebirth, if you want to call it that, coming back to the Challenge Tour. I was here in 2015. I kind of kick-started my career out here and I’ve managed to play some consistent golf this season. I’ve also managed to play better. I wouldn’t say I’m back to where I was once. I don’t think I’m back to that level yet, but I am playing better and that was the goal coming into 2023.”
Does he almost feel rejuvenated? “Very much so,” he declared. “If I can get my DP World Tour card back - and this week’s not over as there’s still a lot of golf to be played - it really validates sometimes having to step back. We’ve all been there where you are struggling and you kind of press on. You feel that monkey get bigger on your shoulders every week.
“Looking at myself now and being able to make that call at the end of 2022 to say ‘I need to step back, I need to reassess’ was a massive call. It’s never going to guarantee anything but, looking back, I am very proud of myself for making that judgement.”
Along with fellow DP World Tour winners Matteo Manassero and Andrea Pavan, Stone doesn’t give the impression that he feels he’s a ‘Big Time Charlie’ on the Challenge Tour. Far from it, in fact. “I didn’t have a nice way about me after the first hole on Friday,” he said, laughing, of having started the second circuit with a double-bogey 7 before turning his day around by storming home in four-under-par. “That’s one of the things I lost at the end of last season. I wasn’t enjoying myself. I didn’t want to be out there. I didn’t want to play golf. You can ask anyone in professional sports, if you don’t want to be there, it’s not going to go well - that’s just a fact.
“I have enjoyed my time on the Challenge Tour this year. I’ve enjoyed meeting some of the younger guys, including some of the South Africans who are also out here now. Casey Jarvis, JJ Senekal, Jaco Prinsloo. I didn’t know these guys before this season and it’s been great developing relationships with these guys and see their capabilities.
"Seeing how good they are has kind of refreshed me. I kind of feel as though I am one of the older guys because I’ve been out in Europe for the last ten years, so I do help from time to time. But I still feel young at heart. I still feel I have a long career ahead of me and I am really hoping that 2024 will be fantastic.”
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.