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Jewish golfers on their “A” game

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Jewish golfing champions are a bit of an anomaly in South Africa. However, right now two young Jewish golfers are on a winning streak.

Professional golfer Stacy Lee Bregman, and Mikail Behr, a 16-year-old scholar at Reddam House in Bedfordview, each won a golf tournament in August.

On 7 August 2021, Bregman played a crucial role in Team Buhai winning the Aramco Team Series against Team Storm at Sotogrande in Spain.

Playing in what was a three-day competition, part of the Ladies European Tour, Bregman holed a putt from the back of the green in the final round to complete an inventive birdie. Knowing she had just handed Team Buhai the clubhouse lead, Bregman celebrated by hugging her three teammates, including captain Ashleigh Buhai. “It was quite a crucial moment,” she said.

Although Team Storm then levelled the combined score, the Johannesburg-born Buhai won the playoff, and Bregman could celebrate her sixth win since she turned professional in November 2006.

“The tournament was a great experience,” said Bregman. “Since I won the world amateur [Espirito Santo Trophy in October 2006] with Ashleigh Buhai, this was one of the only times I experienced playing in a team because golf is an individual sport. So, it was pretty cool to be playing a team event again.”

Eight days later, Behr won his first Gauteng Provincial Under-Nineteen Tournament by carding a three-under-par 69 to finish ahead of the 59 other golfers competing in the one-day Junior Central Gauteng Golf Union August Break 18 Holes at Glenvista Country Club.

Behr took up golf when he was 12. “I took him to Huddle Park, gave him one or two clubs to play with, and that’s how he started,” said his dad, Ross.

Bregman, now the sixth highest-ranked South African in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings at number 659, started playing golf when she was 13. “I played golf a few times on holiday with a friend and I wasn’t that interested in playing or anything,” she said.

However, her dad encouraged her to play at Killarney on Sundays, and she participated in all the junior camps there. One day, he took her to play nine holes and Neville Sundelson, the World Amateur Champion 1973 and bronze medallist at the 1969 Maccabi Games, was playing leisurely in front of them.

“He asked me to join, and took me under his wing,” said Bregman. “He saw potential and he pretty much got me into the sport. He mentored and coached me, and that’s why I’m playing golf professionally.”

Behr, on the other hand, doesn’t have a full-time coach. “He’s done this all on his own,” said his dad. “I mean, I was a tennis player in my day, and I thought he would follow the same path, but he got into his golf and he enters the tournaments on his own. He nags me to go. I don’t put any pressure on him, he’s done this all on his own.”

A member at the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, where he was crowned 2020 Junior Club Champion, Behr practices most days of the week.

Behr doesn’t play any other sports as he is concentrating on golf. The left-handed golfer is working towards a scholarship once he matriculates. “We are busy planning that now. He wants to go to the United States,” said his father.

Behr recalls once walking nine holes with Gary Player at Killarney. “Go get a club in the clubhouse; I want to see how you hit,” the three-time Masters champion told him. In spite of not being in his golf uniform, Behr found a left-handed club and hit a great shot.

The achievements of Player, Ernie Els, and Charl Schwartzel are well-documented, but the sporting successes accomplished by the other Johannesburg-born golfer, Bregman, have gone under the radar.

After receiving the Maccabi SA Junior Sports Star Of The Year Award in 2003, Bregman won the Sports Woman Of The Year Award at King David Linksfield school in 2004 and a gold medal for golf at the 2005 Maccabi Games.

Bregman achieved provincial colours for athletics and South African colours seven times for karate, a sport that taught her so much about the importance of staying focused, she has become known for her intense demeanour on the golf course.

She went on to be named Maccabi SA Senior Sports Star Of The Year in 2007 before bagging five wins on the Sunshine Ladies Tour, the last being the Canon Ladies Tshwane Open in 2018. In the same year, she won the Investec Order of Merit and the Sunshine Ladies Tour Order of Merit.

“I haven’t had an amazing victory yet in Europe, but I’ve finished second quite a few times and finished in the top 10 in the Order of Merit of Europe twice,” says Bregman. “So, I have had quite a lot of success in my career.”

Bregman has competed against all the world’s top golfers, including number one-ranked Nelly Korda and eleventh-ranked Minjee Lee.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report this week, Bregman had just ended her four-month stay overseas, returning to Johannesburg where she lives when she’s not travelling.

Asked about the impact of COVID-19 on golf, Bregman admitted that she had “struggled quite a lot” in adjusting to new protocols and not playing competitively between April and July last year.

“Travel has become a lot harder, especially from South Africa,” she said. “Lots of COVID-19 tests, lots of isolation. Even on tour, it’s like literally just a golf course and hotel. You can’t be ordering Uber Eats all the time. You used to be able to go to restaurants, explore the town, and stay at Airbnbs. You can’t do much of that anymore. So, it has taken a big toll on a lot of people’s mental health. That’s why I just came home for a week – this is my only opportunity to come home, see family, friends, and just have a little bit of normality before I go back overseas until December.”

During the first few months of lockdown, Behr practised by chipping into the golf net at home. “Obviously the clubs were closed for a while, but now everything has opened up,” said his dad. “There are protocols now. When he plays in these tournaments, we aren’t allowed to go and watch as no spectators are allowed.”

Bregman has sound advice for Behr and other young golfers in South Africa. “If you have the determination and dedication, and you show some kind of shine, this is definitely a profession that you can enjoy. It’s a game for all. This and tennis are probably the only two sports that you can really make a good living out of. The prize money and the gap is starting to narrow between men and ladies. There’s hope for women’s sport, and golf is definitely one of them.”

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